Boys unaware of kidnapping; no bond for Hakkens
The young brothers stepped out of their grandparents' house Thursday and onto a world stage, cameras capturing their every smile, wave and timidly uttered hello.
Chase Hakken, 2, brought toy cars with him to the news conference Thursday that had sprung up in his front yard. His brother, 4-year-old Cole, wore Spider-Man sneakers, struck a pose for photographers and threw an arm around his brother's shoulders.
They were normal boys, doing what children their age do.
But the siblings were not aware they were at the center of an abduction case that, according to authorities, involved their grandmother being tied up after a break-in, their parents whisking them away by boat, diplomatic maneuvering between the State Department and the Cuban Foreign Ministry and, finally, a red-eye flight from Tampa to Havana.
“They were told that everybody knew about their sailboat trip to Cuba and the plane ride back and that everybody wants to take their pictures,” grandmother Patricia Hauser, who has legal custody of the boys, said at Thursday's news conference.
“We have not asked the boys anything about their journey. We're treating it like they were on a vacation.”
Hauser declined to comment on her daughter Sharyn Hakken and Sharyn's husband, Joshua Hakken. The couple are accused of abducting their sons from Hauser's North Tampa home last week then sailing to Cuba. The parents did not have legal custody of the children.
“We just go forward,” said Hauser, who allowed the boys to be photographed but not to answer questions. “That's all we can do.”
While Hauser talked about how overjoyed she was to be reunited with her grandsons, the boys' parents sat in separate cells at Falkenburg Road Jail. Joshua and Sharyn Hakken are being held without bail.
Charges against the Hakkens include kidnapping, child abuse, false imprisonment, burglary and interference with custody.
During their first appearance hearing Thursday, Circuit Court Judge Walter Heinrich told them they are not allowed to see or talk to her children and the Hausers.
The Hakkens, who are both licensed engineers, wore red jail jumpsuits, which signify high-risk inmates.
“From this moment, you are no longer allowed contact with the alleged victims or witnesses in your case,” Heinrich said. “You cannot see these people again, you cannot communicate with them.”
Both Hakkens are represented by public defender Charles Traina, who declined to comment after the hearing.
Joshua Hakken is accused of breaking into Hauser's home April 3, tying up his mother-in-law and taking his sons while they were still in their pajamas, investigators said.
After meeting up with his wife, the parents drove the boys to Johns Pass before leaving the country on a 25-foot sailboat. The family traveled 330 miles across the Gulf of Mexico, docking at Hemingway Marina in Havana, Cuba, on Sunday, authorities said.
Hauser said the brothers were “well-cared for” during the boat trip to Cuba, suffering only a few bug bites.
The family dog, a 15-year-old rat terrier named Nati, also was on the boat but didn't fare as well, she said.
“She's being treated for dehydration and an ear infection,” Hauser said.
The Hakkens might have believed they could find refuge in the island nation, but experts said Cuba had little to gain politically by holding them.
The communist island shares no extradition agreement with the U.S., and relations between the two have been icy for decades. But Cuban officials immediately handed the family back Tuesday.
A contingent of federal, state and local authorities flew to Havana on Tuesday night to retrieve the Hakkens. The family returned to Tampa at 1:30 a.m. Wednesday.
While Chase and Cole were reunited with the Hausers, the Hakkens were booked at Orient Road Jail.
Lindsay Fleming, who lives two doors down from the Hakkens' home on South Sterling Drive in South Tampa, said the images of the couple he saw in television news reports was “incongruent” from the neighbors he knew.
“My observation of them was of a caring family and loving parents,” Fleming said.
Residents in their neighborhood rarely socialize, Fleming said. He said he last spoke to the Hakkens about a year ago, when several neighbors were outside their homes, watching pilots practice for an annual air show put on by nearby MacDill Air Force Base.
Cole was playing in the yard and Chase was in a stroller. That's when Sharyn Hakken offered Fleming some marijuana, he said.
“She asked if I wanted a hit and I said, 'No, thanks,” Fleming said.
The Hakkens' home is one of five built around a road that forms a semi-circle. That area of the neighborhood was quiet Thursday afternoon, a trait Fleming said was typical.
A white Chevrolet Trailblazer with a University of South Florida license plate was parked in the driveway of the Hakkens' home. Dried leaves had piled up on the hood and windshield. The house's blinds were shut tight; the porch light was still on.
Nancy Weining, who said she is an acquaintance of the Hausers, called them a “wonderful family.” She said the Hausers had lost touch with their daughter and son-in-law after the Hakkens lost custody of their boys.
That happened in June, when police in Slidell, La., investigated a disturbance in a hotel and found the couple inside with drugs and weapons. Their children also were in the room.
Joshua Hakken was arrested on drug and weapons charges and the boys were placed in temporary foster care. A month later, Hakken went to the foster home and tried to get them back by gunpoint, police said.
The foster parents called 911 and Hakken left without his sons.
Eventually, Louisiana officials, along with the Florida Department of Children & Families, decided that Chase and Cole should live with the Hausers.
On Thursday, grandfather Robert Hauser said he and his wife have not yet decided if they will adopt the boys.
“Going forward, we're just going to take one step at a time,” he said. “These are just two wonderful boys.”
Patricia Hauser said her grandsons are both active, smart and love to play with each other and their friends.
“Cole is bubbly and talkative. He loves to sing,” she said. “Chase is laid-back.”
She said she knows that one day the boys will ask what happened to their parents. Hauser said she does not yet know how she'll explain it to them.
“We haven't gotten that far yet,” she said, “but I'm sure we'll have a lot of professional help.”
For now, Hauser said, it's important to shield the boys from media coverage and get back to a normal routine. They will decline future interviews and public appearances, she said.
She then told her boys it was time to say farewell.
“Bye,” Cole said.
“Thanks for taking our picture,” Chase said.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.