TAMPA, Fla. - A Florida couple accused of kidnapping their two young sons and fleeing by boat to Havana were handed over to the United States, and were booked into a Florida jail, officials said Wednesday.
Joshua Michael Hakken and his wife Sharyn were being held at the jail early Wednesday on a number of charges including kidnapping, child neglect and interference with custody, according to a website for the Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office.
U.S. authorities say Hakken kidnapped his sons, 4-year-old Cole and 2-year-old Chase, from his mother-in-law's house north of Tampa, Fla. The boys' maternal grandparents had been granted permanent custody of the boys last week.
Now, authorities said the boys are in the U.S.
The boys’ grandparents spoke out in Tampa during a press conference at midnight Wednesday.
"We're just looking forward to sitting, getting them in our arms and hugging them, and being with them, getting them home where they'll be safe again," said grandfather Bob Hauser.
Earlier Tuesday, Cuban Foreign Ministry official Johana Tablada said in a statement that Havana had informed U.S. authorities of the country's decision to turn over the couple and their children.
U.S. diplomats in Havana said in a statement early Wednesday that the two children had left Cuba and "are safely on their way home."
"We would like to express our appreciation to the Cuban authorities for their extensive cooperation to resolve this dangerous situation quickly," said the statement released by the U.S. Interests Section in Havana.
Tablada did not say when the handover would occur, but reporters saw Sharyn Hakken leaving the dock of the Hemingway Marina in the back seat of a Cuban government vehicle and workers later said that all four Hakkens had been taken away.
An AP reporter spotted the family earlier Tuesday beside their boat at the marina. A man who resembled photographs of Joshua Michael Hakken yelled out "Stop! Stay back!" as the reporter approached, but there was no outward sign of tension or distress between the family members.
Tablada said Cuba tipped the State Department off to the Hakkens' presence on Sunday and that from that moment "diplomatic contact has been exchanged and a professional and constant communication has been maintained."
Hakken lost custody of his sons last year after a drug possession arrest in Louisiana and later tried to take the children from a foster home at gunpoint, authorities said. A warrant has been issued for his arrest on two counts of kidnapping; interference with child custody; child neglect; false imprisonment and other charges.
"My team and I working very hard to ensure safety for two Amcit kids," Conrad Tribble, the No. 2 U.S. diplomat on the island, said via Twitter later Tuesday, using a shorthand for "American citizens."
According to the Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office, Hakken entered his mother-in-law's Florida house last Wednesday, tied her up and fled with his sons. Federal, state and local authorities searched by air and sea for a boat Hakken had recently bought. The truck Hakken, his wife and the boys had been traveling in was found Thursday, abandoned in Madeira Beach, Florida.
Terri Durdaller, a spokeswoman at the Florida Department of Children and Families, said it was not clear where the children will ultimately be placed.
"Louisiana is the ultimate decision maker on where these children will reside. It's likely they will be placed back in Florida with the grandmother," she said.
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