Carlos Arredondo torched the van the Marines came in and seriously burned himself. The Marines were not injured, and the Corps will not press charges, a spokesman said. Arrendondo could have faced charges of arson and destruction of government property, reports CBS station WFOR-TV.
Arredondo's wife, Melida, said she and her husband knew what was coming as uniformed Marines approached their front door.
"Three Marines came to our door, we could see through the window. And my husband immediately knew that his first-born son had been killed," she told WFOR-TV.
While she started to cry, police say Carlos Arredondo simply snapped.
Distraught, he climbed into the Marine Corps van parked outside his home and set it ablaze Wednesday afternoon, suffering severe burns.
"It doesn't surprise me that he was so traumatized. He went crazy," Melida Arredondo said.
Lance Cpl. Alexander Arredondo, 20, based at Camp Pendleton, had died Tuesday in Najaf, Iraq.
His father allegedly took out his grief on the nearest representation of the government, the U.S. Marines' van.
"At one point he actually goes into the garage, picks up a can of gasoline and/or a propane tank, runs towards the vehicle, smashes the vehicle window and sets the U.S. governmental vehicle on fire," police Capt. Tony Rode said. "He's still inside the vehicle as it is fully engulfed in flames."
The Marines, reservists who are members of a military Casualty Assistance Calls Officer team, pulled Arredondo, 44, from the burning vehicle and extinguished the flames on him, police said. None of the Marines was injured but the van was gutted by the fire, Marine Maj. Scott Mack said.
"The father was in disbelief, same as any of us would be after hearing this kind of news," Rode said. "But then the father basically loses it. You can only imagine what this father was going through. He snapped, to say the least."
Arredondo was listed in serious condition with severe burns to his arms and legs.
Melida Arredondo told the Miami Herald that her husband, an immigrant from Costa Rica, "was very proud of Alex serving," though he wished his service would have been during a "more peaceful" time.
But Luz Marina Arredondo, Alexander's grandmother, felt the government was at fault for her grandson's death.
"I blame them a lot," she said. "They send them like guinea pigs over there."
Marine spokesman Capt. Patrick Kerr in New Orleans told the Herald that the incident was "one tragedy on top of another tragedy."
"Our foremost concern is for the welfare of the father who was burned," Kerr said. "We will do everything we can to help the family through this very difficult situation."
"I don't think any of us are qualified to go into the depths of a mind and truly anticipate how somebody's going to react," said Mack.
U.S. forces in Najaf have been battling for nearly five months against Iraqi militiamen loyal to radical Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr.
Wednesday was Carlos Arredondo's 44th birthday.