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Indigent man is set on fire

NEW YORK (AP) — A homeless man was critically injured Friday after he was set on fire outside a church where he had bedded down for the night.

Police were searching for three teenage boys in what homeless advocates say was one of the most severe and senseless attacks on a homeless victim in recent memory.

"I haven't heard of an incident like this in many years in New York," said Mary Brosnahan, executive director of the Coalition for the Homeless.

The torching of Felix Najera, 49, bewildered and stunned residents around Bethany Christian Church in upper Manhattan's East Harlem. The victim was a heavy drinker who would bum cigarettes from passersby but otherwise was a harmless fixture.

"It's a shame," said Gary Williams. "He doesn't bother anybody."

Najera was sleeping on a cardboard box outside the church shortly after midnight when the teens accosted him. One pulled out a lighter and set his pant leg on fire while another went through his pockets, police said.

Investigators found no evidence he was doused with a flammable liquid, as originally suspected. When the victim stood up, the flames spread across his body, and the teens fled on foot, police said.

Najera was taken to the hospital in critical condition with burns covering 75 percent of his body, including his face, chest and stomach.

Other parts of the nation have seen recent spates of violence aimed at homeless people — what some homeless advocates see as part of national trend.

In Cleveland, at least six homeless people were attacked during the first half of the year, including one person who was killed. A social worker claimed that bands of men carrying baseball bats and pipes were confronting homeless people on the street.

Last year, Florida had the highest number of extreme attacks — 48 — of any state, according to one report. The same report documented 142 attacks last year nationwide, 20 of which resulted in deaths — a 65 percent increase from 2005.

Police say many of the attacks involve robbery. But homeless advocates — noting that the vast majority of attackers are male and under the age of 25 — believe the main motive is pure aggression.

In most cases, it's "kids saying they were out trying to get some kicks," Brosnahan said.