BUENA PARK, Calif. -- David Rothenberg, having survived the physical trauma of being set on fire by his father, said Wednesday the emotional wounds of that 'cruel' act will heal only when Charles Rothenberg is dead.
'I think he's a sick man. I can't see why he did this to his own son,' David Rothenberg, now 13, said hours after his father was released from prison after serving 6 years in prison for nearly killing the youth by setting fire to a Buena Park motel room on March 3, 1983.
Seated next to his stepfather, police Lt. Richard Hafdahl, who investigated the case, David said his natural father 'doesn't love me. If he loved me he wouldn't do anything to me.'
The youngster said he would be able to put the experience behind him only 'when Charles dies.'
'His reason (for setting the fire) is that he wanted to hurt my mom, so he hurt me,' David said. 'That's not right. That's cruel.'
Charles Rothenberg, released from the California Men's Colony in San Luis Obispo early Wednesday, was spirited to a secret location where he will serve out his three-year parole as the most closely monitored ex-convict in the state's history.
At a news conference, David Rothenberg, while saying he is no longer fearful of his father -- whom he refers to only as Charles -- is adamant about never wanting to see him or talk to him again. 'I don't want to say anything to him,' he said.
Sitting on a telephone book to better reach a table filled with microphones and facing 20 television news cameras in the basement of the Buena Park Police Department, the soft-spoken youth said he called the news conference to send a message to his father, who has said repeatedly he would like to see his son again.
'I wanted it to (be known) nationally that I never want to see my father again. I wanted to make it clear to him.'
The boy said he is not interested in knowing his father's exact whereabouts and believes Rothenberg is 'in good hands' with state parole officials, who will monitor the parolee's movements via an electronic surveillance bracelet and 24-hour guards.
Still, he said, 'I would like them to keep him in jail for the rest of his life.'
Charles Rothenberg, sentenced to 13 years in prison was released early because of good behavior. As a result of his case, state laws have been toughened, and the same conviction today would result in a maximum penalty of life in prison.
David Rothenberg, who suffered third-degree burns over 90 percent of his body in the fire, which was set while he was sleeping, has undergone more than 100 painful skin grafts and other reconstructive surgery to repair the damage.
The eighth-grader lives with his mother and stepfather in Buena Park, functioning as a regular teenager who doubles as a source of inspiration for other burn victims.
'Physically, I feel good. I participate in sports and do everything that's normal for a 13-year-old to do,' said the youth, wearing a black Los Angeles Raiders cap and offering the San Francisco 49ers as his pick to win the upcoming Super Bowl.
But he said he cannot forgive his father, who has said his 'only reason for living' is to see David 'and ask for his forgiveness.'
'If he wants forgiveness, why did he do this,' the youth said. 'He says he's sorry. He just says that so he can try to get near me. But that's never going to happen.'