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Authorities find no evidence to back WI woman's claim she was set on fire in hate crime

'After reviewing all available evidence, authorities could not establish that the attack, as alleged by the complainant, had occurred,' federal prosecutor says.

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Updated: October 4, 2020 - 8:06am

The Facts Inside Our Reporter’s Notebook

An exhaustive investigation by the FBI and local police in Madison, Wis., found no evidence to support a biracial woman's claim she was attacked and set on fire by four white men in an alleged hate crime this summer that garnered widespread attention.

Althea Bernstein, 18, told authorities she was sprayed with lighter fluid and set on fire in an early-morning attack June 24 in what she described as a racial crime.

But Madison police, the FBI and the U.S. Justice Department announced Friday they were closing the case for lack of evidence.

“After an exhaustive probe, detectives were unable to corroborate or locate evidence consistent with what was reported,” the local police said in a statement.

The U.S. attorneys office in western Wisconsin, which had coordinated a parallel probe with the FBI for possible civil rights violation, said there was no evidence to corroborate Bernstein's claim of an attack.

"Federal investigators determined that there is insufficient evidence to prove that a violation of any federal criminal statute occurred," the office said. "Further, after reviewing all available evidence, authorities could not establish that the attack, as alleged by the complainant, had occurred."

Bernstein’s family said in a statement it was grateful for “the detailed investigative efforts by all involved in this case,” amd asked for privacy, according to the news site Madison.com. “Althea’s injuries are healing and the support of our community has been invaluable in that regard,” the family said.