HOLLYWOOD, Fla. - They are highly trained, field-tested Marines, and like many in their number they have an unenviable task: to tell families that a loved one has been killed. But nothing could have prepared first Sgt. Timothy Shipman and the two Marines in his team for Carlos Arredondo's reaction.
In his grief upon being told his Marine son was dead, Arredondo set their government vehicle ablaze and seriously burned himself.
"Just like training for combat, you train for 98 percent of the things that you might face," said Maj. Scott Mack, a unit leader at the Hialeah-based scout and antitank platoon of the 8th Tank Battalion. For everything else, he said, "you rely on instinct."
The Marines would not press charges "out of compassion and sensitivity" to Arredondo, Mack said.
A portrait of Lance Cpl. Alexander Arredondo lies on the front porch of his father, Carlos Arredondo, in Hollywood, Fla.,Thursday, Aug. 26, 2004 as part of a simple memorial to the Marine killed in Iraq. As Marine officials tried to tell his father of the death, his father became devastated and lashed out by setting the Marine's van on fire, burning himself in the process. (AP Photo/J.Pat Carter)
Capt. Tony Rode, a Hollywood police spokesman, said it was premature to discuss possible charges against Arredondo, but said it was unlikely. "If you have any ounce of sympathy or compassion, you'd choose not to charge an individual who receives such horrific news about his son," he said.
The Marines arrived at Arredondo's door Wednesday afternoon to tell him that his 20-year-old son, Lance Cpl. Alexander Arredondo of Randolph, Mass., had been killed in combat in Iraq.
As they tried to console him, the father walked into the garage, picked up a propane tank, a can of gasoline and a propane torch. He smashed the van's window, got inside and set it ablaze, despite pleas from the Marines to stop.
The Marines, reservists who are members of a military Casualty Assistance Calls team, pulled Arredondo, 44, from the burning vehicle and extinguished the flames on him. None of the Marines suffered injuries. Wednesday was Arredondo's 44th birthday.
Military officials could not recall a similar incident from bereaved relatives.
"They range in emotion from stunned silence to crying and weeping," said Gunnery Sgt. Kristine Scarber, a Marines spokeswoman. "As far as we know, this is the first time anyone has ever been violent."
Mack said Arredondo, an immigrant from Costa Rica, had been upgraded to stable condition with burns over 26 percent of his body at Jackson Memorial Hospital. Arredondo's wife, Melida, told Marine officials he was doing "much better."
Mack credited Shipman and his two team members, Staff Sgt. Abraham Negron and Gunnery Sgt. Syrill Melvin, for their response to the incident. He said they could have tackled Arredondo before he set the van ablaze but wisely avoided making matters worse. Shipman, meanwhile, said his focus was on the Arredondo family.
"The Marine Corps is small. You lose a Marine, everyone feels the pain," Shipman said.
Neighbors said Carlos Arredondo had been a friendly and helpful neighbor since moving there six months ago. They responded by helping clean up debris from the charred street and putting his tools in the shed.
An American flag was draped over a bush and a small shrine was set out by the front door, including a photo of the young man in his uniform, a vase holding pink and white carnations and a small blue placard that read: "Tell the kids I love them. God."
The Defense Department confirmed Thursday that Arredondo died in Najaf, Iraq. Arredondo, who turned 20 this month, was assigned to the Marine Corps Base in Camp Pendleton, Calif.
Some family members said they didn't agree with President Bush's handling of the war.
"I blame it all on Bush. He's 20 years old, he should not be at war because of someone else's vendettas. The whole situation is just a tragedy," said Priscilla Foley, a cousin in Boston.
© Copyright 2004 Associated Press