TAMPA — Tucked amid the 1,000-plus pages of evidence in the case against Joshua and Sharyn Hakken are letters sent to the self-proclaimed, government-hating defendants since April, when their ill-fated attempt to seek sanctuary in Cuba ended with their arrests in Tampa.
Letters to and from relatives and friends urging the still-jailed Hakkens to stay strong are alongside correspondence between Sharyn Hakken and former cell mates, including one in which Sharyn Hakken professed undying love.
Then, there are the handful of letters of fans; strangers who share an anti-government sentiment and offer support for the Hakkens, who are charged with kidnapping their two children from their legal guardian and setting sail for Cuba in an attempt to gain political asylum.
“Like you, I am a very well informed citizen and concerned about the total police state that this country is now,” wrote Michael Tarry of Tennessee, who had watched the Hakkens’ saga unfold in early April when an international manhunt was mounted for the children. Two letters from him were in the file.
“How do parents kidnap their own children?” Tarry wrote. “The state really does believe they own our children.”
He wrote that he was “excited to hear you made it to Cuba, only for them to return you. It’s a real shame that ‘law enforcement’ will enforce laws that they know are unconstitutional and downright ridiculous.” He offered to send money, but the offer was declined in a return letter from Sharyn Hakken.
“Thank you so much for your letter of support,” she wrote to Tarry. “It came to me at a time when I was feeling very alone and it helped me a lot ... Thank you so much for your offer of financial support, but we are okay for now.”
Tracy Banks of Englewood told a story similar to the Hakkens; about her daughter’s illegal flight with three sons from Chicago to Key West.
“First off, I will say you are not alone,” Banks wrote. “I have been following your story since you left with your family into the unknown. I was rooting for you and the safety of your little sailboat during all the storms you had to encounter with your precious boys, husband and dog.”
The Hakkens’ parental rights were terminated in April by a Louisiana court which cited a drunken, drug fueled encounter with police at a Slidell, La., motel in 2012 when they lost custody of their boys, and a subsequent armed confrontation by Joshua Hakken at a foster home where their two sons were living.
Sharyn Hakken’s parents were awarded custody, and a day later, Joshua Hakken walked into the Lake Magdalene home and abducted his two sons, then 4 and 2, prosecutors say. The family boarded a sailboat and set out for Cuba. They arrived in Havana less than a week after their small boat was videotaped leaving Johns Pass.
The evidence in the case painted the couple as mentally unstable with paranoid tendencies, particularly when it came to the U.S. government. Joshua Hakken told friends he was an unwilling participant of government experiments and has set up a filtration system in his home to ward off the effects of jet contrails, which friends say he believes are poisoning people.
In letters to 11 countries in Latin America and the Caribbean, including Cuba, Joshua Hakken sought asylum and says the U.S. government is secretly attacking American citizens.
“These attacks include surveillance by the National Security Agency, hacking of our personal computers, microwave radiation weapons attacks, drugging of our food, false imprisonments and the kidnapping of (our) two children.”
Cuba returned the Hakkens to face felony charges in Tampa. The pair are awaiting trial, currently held without bail in the Hillsborough County jail, where letters have continued to arrive.
One came from an inmate at the Ohio State Penitentiary hoping to start up a long-distance romance with Sharyn Hakken.
“Sharyn, future friend,” begins the letter from Charles Eric Allen, a prisoner in Youngstown, Ohio. “I write to you looking for a woman that is able to see greater things in life and understands nothing is free in life.”
Messages sent to Sharyn Hakken’s Facebook page from strangers and friends during the time the family was on the run also are part of the evidence. The comments contained both encouraging words and condemnations.
One poster wrote: “Stop stealing kids,” while another passed on this message: “Fight the power.”