TAMPA — The boys think they took a vacation to Cuba.
They have no idea that, according to deputies, they were kidnapped by their parents.
On Thursday, a few hours after their parents made their first appearance before a Hillsborough County judge, Cole and Chase Hakken, ages 4 and 2, stood before a crush of media on their grandparents' front lawn. The boys flashed broad grins and held hands.
Cole stuck out his tongue. Chase showed reporters — about 30 in all — his toys, a little truck and a car that he palmed in each hand.
Their grandparents have custody of the boys now and plan to immediately get them on their prevoyage routine. They are not telling the children about the crimes their parents, Joshua and Sharyn Hakken, are accused of committing, said the boy's grandmother, Patricia Hauser.
On April 3, deputies say, Joshua Hakken tied Hauser to a filing cabinet and kidnapped his children, whom he and his wife had lost custody of months earlier. The family set sail to Cuba with the boys' dog in tow. But the Cuban government sent the Hakkens back Tuesday night. The parents were booked into a Hillsborough jail.
On Thursday, prosecutors formally charged each with kidnapping, burglary with assault or battery, interference with custody, false imprisonment and grand theft motor vehicle.
Prosecutors also added one new charge: child abuse.
The couple inflicted "mental injury" on the children, according to court records. If convicted, they face up to life in prison.
Patricia Hauser asked that no reporters mention the events of the past week in front of the toddlers. The grandparents are also not discussing the circumstances that contributed to the Hakkens losing custody of their children — something that the Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office expounded on Thursday.
Previously, the Sheriff's Office and FBI said the Hakkens had "anti-government" sentiments and were involved in several bizarre criminal incidents in Louisiana last summer.
On Thursday, the Sheriff's Office told the Tampa Bay Times that investigators have "significant evidence" that Joshua Hakken believed the U.S. government was targeting him and his family and is plotting the destruction of the country.
Deputies would not elaborate, saying the case is still under investigation.
The grandparents simply told the boys Thursday that people wanted to take pictures of them because of their boat trip and plane ride.
"We are trying very hard to shield the boys from media coverage, and we want them to get back to their normal, everyday schedule and just be carefree little boys again," Hauser said.
That's a good plan, according to University of Florida psychology professor Darlene Kertes, who researches the effects of stress on children.
Disruptions in children's daily care can be upsetting, so creating normalcy and stability of caregivers is important. Kertes also said that the children, at ages 2 and, 4 would not understand the allegations against their parents, so avoiding talk of the criminal charges is a good decision.
The Hausers say they have not asked the boys about their trip, nor have they figured out how they will discuss the events in the future.
On Thursday, the boys' 15-year-old rat terrier named Nati, was resting comfortably after being examined by a veterinarian a day earlier. The dog had also taken the trip to Cuba and suffered from dehydration, ear problems and from ailments related to old age, Hauser said.
Earlier Thursday morning, a Hillsborough judge decided that Joshua and Sharyn Hakken will be held without bail. The defense agreed not to contest that, meaning the Hakkens will remain in jail as their case winds through court.
At the Falkenburg Road Jail, the Hakkens are considered high-security. They appeared in front of the judge Thursday morning through closed-circuit television in handcuffs.
They both told the judge they cannot afford a private attorney. Assistant Public Defender Charles Traina said he would be taking the couple's case.
Times news researcher John Martin contributed to this report. Jessica Vander Velde can be reached at [email protected] or (813) 226-3433.