Crime

Death of John Lang in suspicious Fresno house fire ruled suicide

John Lang, 51, was found dead in a burning home on Van Ness Avenue on Jan. 20.
John Lang, 51, was found dead in a burning home on Van Ness Avenue on Jan. 20. rappleton@fresnobee.com

The Fresno County coroner has ruled the death of a man found in a burning central Fresno home in January as a suicide.

Fresno police originally reported that John Lang, 51, had been stabbed in his abdomen and upper back on Jan. 20. Homicide detectives began investigating.

Tony Botti, a spokesman for the Fresno County sheriff and coroner, said Thursday that Lang had “three superficial, self-inflicted stab wounds” to his chest and no cuts on his back, despite initial reports by law enforcement. A more detailed, official coroner’s report will be released sometime next month, he added.

Botti said investigators believed Lang started the fire himself.

Fresno police Lt. Burke Farrah, head of the department’s homicide unit, said the confusion about the wounds was the result of incorrect information released at the scene by Lt. Joe Gomez, the department’s public information officer. He is waiting for the official coroner’s report, but he said that information gathered during his detectives’ investigation also pointed to suicide.

“Joe made a mistake,” Farrah said. “This is an aberration. Typically, we are very careful.”

He continued: “When you start from a false premise, that’s what allows this to spin out of control.”

Lang’s death has caused some online controversy.

Five days before he died, Lang left ABC30 reporter Corin Hoggard a Facebook comment saying: “Corrupt Fresno cops are going to try and kill me this weekend, possibly tonight. This is no joke.”

Lang’s social media accounts and personal blog contained posts saying that the Fresno County Sheriff’s Office and Fresno Police Department were corrupt. He also posted videos, allegedly from a security camera on the front of his house, of what he said were law enforcement members watching his house.

Multiple alternative media outlets reported on Lang, and a video – allegedly made by a Bakersfield section of the hacker group Anonymous – was posted to YouTube threatening revenge against the city of Fresno.

A post to the social website Reddit early Thursday morning had received more than 1,200 upvotes (similar to “liking” something on Facebook) and 100 comments by 5 p.m. The post calls Lang a “police accountability activist” and asks forum users to “make his story undeniably famous.”

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