Two years ago, Carlos Arredondo tried to destroy a military van and set himself on fire in his grief over the news that his son, a Marine, had been killed in Iraq.
On Tuesday, Arredondo became a citizen of the country his son died fighting for, and used his new status in a protest, peaceful this time, of the war his son died in.
"Enough! Bring the troops home now!" read the sign Arredondo held aloft moments after he and 933 other immigrants were sworn as citizens in a ceremony at the Lowell Memorial Auditorium.
"Now I can use my First Amendment to say what I need to say," he said afterward. "Now I can express myself without being afraid of being deported."
In August 2004, Arredondo was celebrating his 44th birthday and awaiting a phone call from Alexander, his oldest son, when a Marine Corps van pulled up in front of his house in Hollywood, Fla. The officers were there to deliver the news that 20-year-old son was dead.
At first, Arredondo would not believe it, convinced that his son, a practical joker, would dart out from behind the van and wrap him in a hug.
When Arredondo realized it was no joke, he lost it.
He walked into his garage and grabbed a five-gallon can of gasoline, a five-pound hammer and a propane torch, and headed for the van. Once inside he began destroying everything with the hammer, he recalled Tuesday.
"I was screaming and yelling," he said. "I splashed gasoline all over the van and got some on myself. My mother was trying to pull me out of the van when I hit the button on the torch."
The explosion of the gas fumes threw Arredondo out of the van, and he was badly burned.
Arredondo, a native of Costa Rica, recovered from his injuries, and later met with the Marines to apologize.
He also moved to Boston to be closer to his son, Brian, 19, and prepared to become a U.S. citizen.
"This is a way for me to honor my sons," Arredondo said about his passage into citizenship.
On Tuesday, Arredondo, 46, was among the immigrants representing 106 countries who became new United States citizens. With his son Brian at his side, Arredondo held up a large photograph of his two sons as Rep. Marty Meehan thanked him for his son's sacrifice.
He held up his protest sign minutes later, as he left the building.
U.S. District Court Chief Judge Mark Wolf, who issued the citizenship oath, asked the applicants to stand as he called the names of each of their home countries. Once they all were standing, the oath of allegiance was administered. The applicants erupted in cheers and waved tiny American flags when Wolf declared them citizens.
"You're coming here has sent us each a message," Wolf said. "You remind us that despite its imperfections, the United States remains special to people throughout the world. We thank you for delivering this message."