Cuba returns two U.S. children who were abducted in Tampa

el Nuevo HeraldApril 10, 2013 

A saga that began when a troubled Tampa couple kidnapped their two young sons and sailed with them to the Marina Hemingway west of Havana has come to an end, with the parents booked into a Tampa-area jail on Wednesday morning.

Joshua Michael Hakken and his wife, Sharyn, were being held at the jail early Wednesday on charges including kidnapping, child neglect and interference with custody, according to a website for the Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office.

On Tuesday, Cuba sent back the Hakken family to the United States. The case had threatened to revive memories of Elián González, the 5-year-old boy-rafter at the center of a heart-rending tug-of-war between his relatives in Miami and Cuba in 2000.

All four family members were aboard the U.S. plane, which arrived early Wednesday in Tampa.

The parents, who were handcuffed, were separated from the children, and also from each other. They were expected to face additional charges in Hillsborough County and jailed.

A statement from the U.S. Interests Section in Havana early Wednesday confirmed only that the children were being returned, although authorities in Hillsborough County confirmed that the parents were also aboard the plane.

“Tonight, thanks to a joint effort of the Department of State, FBI and U.S. Coast Guard, two U.S. citizen children are safely on their way home,” read a statement from the U.S. Interests Section. “We would like to express our appreciation to the Cuban authorities for their extensive cooperation to resolve this dangerous situation quickly.”

The statement provided no other details, citing the “sensitive nature of the ongoing investigation and privacy considerations.”

The children were being checked by medical officials while en route to Florida.

The saga began last week when Josh Hakken, 35, made off with sons Chase, 2, and Cole, 4, after breaking into the north Tampa home of his wife’s mother.

The three and Sharyn Hakken, 34, then sailed away in the Salty Paw, a blue 27-foot sailboat he had purchased recently.

A child-abduction alert and the manhunt for the family lasted five days, until the boat docked at the Marina Hemingway and Cuban immigration officials realized they had a couple of U.S. fugitives on their hands.

“Based on the press reports linking the Hakken couple with a case of kidnapping minors, the Cuban authorities communicated the presence of these people in Cuba to U.S. authorities,” the Foreign Ministry statement noted.

An employee of the marina’s operations center told El Nuevo Herald on Tuesday that a man named Hakken had arrived there Sunday or Monday aboard a U.S.-registered sailboat.

El Nuevo Herald reported late Monday that Cuban immigration officials were detaining the family at the fenced-in marina west of Havana. Foreign pleasure boats arriving in Cuba are required to dock at the marina and check in with migration officials.

The bizarre case initially raised some questions about whether Cuban authorities would agree to return the family to U.S. jurisdiction.

Cuba and the United States have not had a valid extradition treaty since the early days of the Castro revolution. Havana occasionally deports U.S. common criminals but shelters an estimated 70 U.S. fugitives it views as refugees from political persecution. Several Medicare fraudsters also have wound up in Cuba in more recent times.

Andy Gomez, a senior fellow at the University of Miami’s Institute for Cuban and Cuban-American Studies, had predicted that Havana would indeed return the Hakkens to show “that when it involves children, politics should not interfere. Remember Elián?”

Arturo Lopez-Levy, a former Cuban intelligence analyst now at the University of Denver also predicted earlier in the day that Cuba would “send the whole family back to the United States as a goodwill gesture to U.S. authorities.”

Havana also was likely to have been put off by the Hakkens’ record, including their bizarre behavior during an incident last year in the Louisiana town of Slidell, when police found drugs and guns in the hotel room they were sharing with their kids. The Hakkens are both engineers and owned a business in Tampa.

“Both Mr. and Mrs. Hakken were acting in a bizarre manner that alarmed officers. They were talking about ‘completing their ultimate journey’ and were traveling across the country to ‘take a journey to the Armageddon,’” said a Slidell police department statement made public last week. Armageddon is the place where the Bible says the final battle between good and evil will be fought, and is usually associated with end-of-the-world prophesies.

Joshua Hakken was arrested on a drug charge and his sons were taken to a foster home, the police statement added. Two weeks later, the foster home called 911 to report that the father was trying to take his kids away at gunpoint, but Hakken ran away before police arrived.

The boys were later turned over to Sharyn Hakken’s mother in north Tampa, Patricia Hauser. Josh Hakken then broke into her house, tied her up and made off with the kids. Prosecutors had filed charges of kidnapping, false imprisonment and interference with child custody, among others, against the husband.

Information from the Tampa Bay Times and The Associated Press was also used in this report.

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