A is for Artist (A is also for Arsonist)

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At the emergency room, Martinez was cycling on a manic high. "There was a little boy crying because his father had jerked him and dislocated his shoulder. I remember I went up to him and kissed him on the forehead and he stopped crying. I thought I was God." Martinez told emergency room personnel his brain was a tumor and was killing him. They diagnosed him with euphoria and discharged him, promising Martinez's sister that a mental-health clinic would call. It didn't, and Martinez returned to school in San Francisco.

On December 6, 1996, in the middle of the afternoon, Martinez took a 2-by-4 to some bricks in front of the school cafeteria, smashing them as students walked by and applauded. "They thought it was a performance piece, they loved it, but I was trying to destroy the world." He was expelled from school.

Martinez's landlord called the San Francisco Mobile Crisis Unit after Martinez broke into his office and went through his files. Court documents report they described him as "illusional, grandiose and tangential" with "increasing psychotic disorganization." "They came to my apartment, they gave me their card and asked me if I wanted medication. I said no. I grew up with Nancy Reagan. Drugs were bad."

The Art Institute called his sister, who arrived in San Francisco six days later and drove him back to Phoenix. Martinez remembers passing through the Mojave Desert. This, to Martinez, was the ultimate sign, God's word in the desert directing him to the church on Mohave Street.

"I was going to destroy Phoenix, and I thought everyone was going to join in and celebrate with me. I thought I had to do this and San Francisco would welcome me back." He was, he admits, delusional. "I had all these racing thoughts, kind of the same as hearing voices, I guess. I was supposed to burn down the church and destroy the evil people."

He was convinced Phoenix was ugly and ill-conceived. The city would be better off if everyone burned down their homes and rebuilt from the ashes. He wanted to start what he thought would be a revolution by burning down the school and church he attended as a child. He thought his actions would convince city planners to stop the planes from flying overhead, planes he had always feared were laden with bombs.

"I thought everyone could see it. The fire was in my eyes."

Martinez says he had planned to burn the church at midnight on Christmas Eve. But when he woke on the morning of December 22, he knew he couldn't wait any longer. "I tried to give them signs that day in church, I kept getting up and turning lights on and off. I opened a window. I originally thought God wanted me to play music; I planned on stealing a saxophone but I got caught. I took that to mean I should burn the church down."

It was with his own art that he sparked the destruction. Martinez went down to his basement and took a razor blade to a large canvas depicting Fidel Castro with a Coke in hand, Jesus, and the Statue of Liberty holding an ice cream cone. He sliced the Statue of Liberty into a series of small wicks for Molotov cocktails.

"I would have used rags, but I didn't have any," he explains. "I was an artist. I had canvas, so that's what I used."

Around 9 p.m. he borrowed his brother-in-law's truck and drove to the church. "My plan was to first burn down the church and then run to the interstate into traffic and kill myself."

He parked the pickup on the street, and grabbed an ax and paint thinner from the back. Then he scaled the fence and entered the church through the window he had opened earlier that day. He moved quickly through the church to the bell tower, pausing to grab a box of matches left on the windowsill he had just crawled through.

Martinez took his ax to the bell tower door, splintering the thin wood paneling. He doused the interior of the small room inside with paint thinner. Then he struck a match and ran out of the church to the school next door where he did the same.

Martinez got back in the truck and crashed it into a pay phone. "I thought someone would call God," he says. Next he tried to drive the truck through the chain-link fence surrounding the church. It stalled. People were watching him now, and began approaching him. "I took off running, ran to the freeway and waited for a car to come so I could run in front of it. The cops got there first. They pointed their guns at me, they told me to get down on the ground and put a foot on my head."

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Susy Buchanan