The man who police say set himself on fire in front of City Hall this week was passionate about issues of the poor and an advocate for his Hilltop neighborhood, those who knew him say.
“He didn’t have a lot and he just wanted fairness for the poor,” Sharry Carey, a member of the Greater Hilltop Area Commission and secretary of the Highland West Neighborhood Association, said of John Roback.
Roback joined the Greater Hilltop Area Commission in 2014 after he ran as a write-in candidate and was elected, then appointed by Mayor Michael B. Coleman, said Lane Newcome, who chairs the commission.
Carey said Roback was passionate about the Hilltop. She said he’d often cut the grass outside abandoned houses to make sidewalks more accessible. However, Roback’s ideas weren’t always accepted with open arms, especially when he pushed for the residents to have more control of what happened in their neighborhood…
Geoff Phillips, chairman for the Hilltop Commission’s parks and recreation committee, said Roback was upset about recent commission elections in June, saying they were fraudulent because candidates didn’t get to speak in front of commission members.
Phillips thinks Roback set himself on fire to make a political statement.
“If a guy does this and he does it… outside of City Hall, it’s political,” he said.
Nobody in Roback’s neighborhood knew much about his personal life, though they said he had a roommate. The door to his home went unanswered on Wednesday. County records show Roback bought the 1,175-square-foot home in 1998.
Cindy Dobbins lived next door to the home. When she returned from a short vacation on Wednesday, she found a bag of cat food and a police scanner on her porch. It had been left for her by Roback, who often tended the neighborhood cats with her and monitored problems in the area.
“He had a room with computers connected to cameras outside his house,” Dobbins said. “He’d listen to the police scanner to know what was going on in the neighborhood.”
It wasn’t until Wednesday morning that Dobbins learned Roback had died, and in such a horrific way. “I don’t understand why he did that,” Dobbins, 58, said with tears in her eyes.
Jenise Jeffrey, whose house is behind Roback’s house, said she often saw him walking to a community garden at the intersection of Oakley and Broad to maintain the plants.
“He seemed to be a very peaceful guy,” Jeffrey, 57, said.
Jeffrey said Roback always kept an eye on the neighborhood and notified neighbors if there were problems in the area or crime…
John Roback was a regular commenter here and he will be missed….frown emoticon
Aug 19, 2015 6:22pm