Missing Hakken family reported to be in Cuba

Authorities announced Monday night that they were told that Joshua Hakken — on the lam aboard a sailboat since Wednesday — had arrived in Cuba with his wife and two young sons.

El Nuevo Herald, the Spanish-language newspaper affiliated with the Miami Herald, reported Monday night it had confirmed the Hakken family was in Cuba. There, the newspaper reported, the Hakkens were in the custody of Cuban immigration officials and were being attended to by U.S. consular officials.

Hillsborough County sheriff's officials said they were awaiting confirmation from the State Department Monday night.

On Wednesday, the day after a judge notified the couple that their parental rights had been revoked, an armed Joshua Hakken barged into his mother-in-law's home north of Tampa, bound her with zip ties and kidnapped his boys, authorities said. Hours later, their sailboat launched from a dock in Madeira Beach, apparently headed to Cuba.

So what happens next?

Experts believe the Cuban government will send them right back.

"They don't want these crazy people down there," said former FBI Agent Gregg McCrary. "I can't imagine any country would welcome these people with open arms."

David Abraham, professor of immigration law at the University of Miami School of Law, agreed. He predicted Cuba would view the Hakkens as illegal entrants and yield to the American family court decision.

"I would expect the Cubans to return such folks," he said. "They're not political refugees. This is not an issue involving our way of doing things versus their way of doing things. I would not expect folks like this to get sympathy from Cuban courts or sympathy from Cuban authorities."

It's unclear, however, if Mr. Hakken and his wife, Sharyn, would go through a different process than their boys — Cole, 4, and Chase, 2. The couple doesn't have legal custody of the boys and a felony warrant has been issued for Mr. Hakken.

This strange tale began in June after the Hakkens attended an "antigovernment" rally in Louisiana. Later, police say they caught Mr. Hakken in the family's hotel room with marijuana, a gun and a knife. He was acting bizarrely, according to investigators. He talked about a "journey to Armageddon."

Police charged him with marijuana possession and put his kids in foster care. About two weeks later, police say he showed up at the foster home in Hammond, La., waving a gun.

Louisiana sent the children to Sharyn Hakken's mother, Patricia Hauser, who lives just north of Tampa. She was the one tied up Wednesday morning.

Why Mr. Hakken would flee to Cuba remains a mystery. The 330-mile trip, no doubt, would have been an unpleasant one.

The 1972 Morgan sailboat is only 25 feet long. The cabin, which sleeps two, is just bigger than an office cubicle. The water tank holds only 16 gallons.

The temperature would have neared 90 during much of the trip. The boat has no shower.

On the good days, the swells would have reached three feet. On the bad ones, when the skies opened and the winds raged, they likely would have grown to at least twice that size. There was a good chance someone — or all of them — got seasick.

Even before the information about the family reaching Cuba was released, McCrary believed the family's time on the lam wouldn't continue.

"I just don't think this is going to last very long," he said. "Their only hope is if they have somebody who will hide them."

Such potential helpers would be hard to find.

"Anybody who's going to do that is going to be somebody who's very, very close to them," McCrary said. "And that's the first place that law enforcement will look."

Mr. Hakken's personality would have made hiding even more difficult. Beyond his peculiar statements to police, he has voiced his disdain for the government on at least one political website.

Fugitives who have successfully evaded capture for years did so in large part because they dramatically changed their habits and kept low profiles.

According to former FBI Agent Mary Ellen O'Toole, Mr. Hakken doesn't seem like the type capable of such change.

"He has strong views and he's going to want other people to hear them," she said. "You can't change your personality."

Times staff writers Patty Ryan and Jessica Vander Velde and researcher John Martin contributed to this report. John Woodrow Cox can be reached at jcox@tampabay.com.

Missing Hakken family reported to be in Cuba 04/08/13 [Last modified: Tuesday, April 9, 2013 12:34am]

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