Crime & Courts
‘Emotional scars’ for Hakken brothers as parents face charges
The two young boys abducted from Tampa and taken to Cuba by boat may only remember fragments of their journey when they’re older, child psychologists said.
Chase and Cole Hakken may recall salty air, open water, blue sky and a dock in some foreign land, experts said.
But their parents have likely damaged their children emotionally — not by abducting them, but by prolonging the family’s turmoil and conflict, said Hofstra University professor Robert Motta.
“Children of this age really don’t grasp the concept of kidnapping,” said Motta, the director of Hofstra’s Child and Family Trauma Clinic in New York.
“One could speculate they could have seen this in a positive way: ‘Oh, we’re going on a sailing trip.’ But there will be emotional scars. The things that will affect them are the neglect and seeing the family conflict.”
The family’s turmoil, which made international headlines, will continue to play out in a Tampa courtroom.
The first appearance hearing for parents Joshua and Sharyn Hakken is scheduled today at 8:30 a.m. in Hillsborough County Court. The Hakkens face charges of kidnapping, child neglect and interference with custody.
Joshua Hakken will also be charged with false imprisonment and is being held on $154,000 bail. No bail information was listed for Sharyn Hakken.
The couple will not face federal charges, said David Couvertier, a spokesman for the FBI in Tampa.
They have not been interviewed by investigators and have invoked their right to an attorney, authorities said.
The weeklong search for the Hakkens ended Tuesday in the Hemingway Marina in Havana.
The family weathered a perilous ride on their 1972 Morgan sailboat “Salty,” traveling 330 miles down the Gulf of Mexico to reach Cuba, which informed the U.S. State Department of the Hakkens’ presence Sunday.
A contingent of U.S., state and local officials flew to Havana on Tuesday night to retrieve the family.
The boys, Chase, 2, and Cole, 4, were returned to their maternal grandparents, who have legal custody, in North Tampa. A family dog that was taken was also returned.
The grandparents, Bob and Patricia Hauser, appeared before the media early Wednesday. They looked relieved but shed no tears.
“Our grandchildren are safe,” Bob Hauser said.
Two hours after the news conference, Joshua and Sharyn Hakken were booked at Orient Road Jail. Joshua Hakken, 35, had grown a bushy beard. Sharyn Hakken, 34, wore a green T-shirt with the words “Great Expectations” on the front. Both had on shorts and flip-flops and were led to the booking area in handcuffs.
Motta said he understands how parents can feel wronged by the legal system when they lose custody of their children. But abducting them is not the solution, he said.
“Those motives are entirely selfish,” Motta said. “They just think, ‘I want my kids,’ not necessarily what’s best for their kids. They’re not motivated by a concern for the child, but a concern for themselves.”
Joshua Hakken is accused of breaking into his mother-in-law’s North Tampa home last Wednesday, tying up Patricia Hauser and whisking away his sons. The incident took place the day after a Louisiana court awarded custody of the boys to their maternal grandparents.
After taking the boys, deputies said, Hakken met up with his wife, changed vehicles, drove to Madeira Beach and sailed more than 300 miles to Havana, dodging an international manhunt.
The custody order was issued after Hakken was arrested on drug charges last June. Police said he and his wife created a disturbance at a hotel in Slidell, La. The children were placed in a foster home and Hakken later attempted to get them back at gunpoint, police said.
Soon after, Chase and Cole, still under foster care, were placed with their grandparents.
Child welfare officials in Louisiana will review the case again to make a final decision on where the children will live.
“We are relieved the children are back in Tampa with their grandparents after the last few hectic days. ... Our main concern is returning these kids to a stable and loving environment,” said Terri Durdaller, spokeswoman for the Florida Department of Children & Families.
David Finkelhor, director of the Crimes Against Children Research Center, said it’s vital that Cole and Chase develop a positive attachment with their key caregivers — in this case, their grandparents.
“What kids need at this age is someone who looks after their needs and loves them,” said Finkelhor, who is also a sociology professor at the University of New Hampshire. “They’ve already been through various conflicts and chaos.”
Motta, the Hofstra professor, said the Hakkens’ absence from their sons’ lives and their inconsistent parenting the past year are what may impact them the most.
“Not having your father around on a consistent basis, seeing your father engage in erratic behavior — these are the things that will impact them,” Motta said.
As Cole and Chase grow older, they may find it hard to trust others, Motta said.
“It’s almost like it will always be in the back of their minds,” he said. “They were abandoned once. Will they be abandoned again?”
Motta said children “involved in custody disputes, on average, have a higher percentage of developing relationship issues, depression and anxiety. But there are some resilient children who overcome them and become successful.”
Finkelhor said family disruptions in a child’s early development “can be fairly significant and have a long-lasting trauma.”
“A lot of it depends on the severity of the neglect and how it happened,” Finkelhor said. “Kids whose attachment is damaged do tend to have problems forming attachments to other people.”
To avoid those pitfalls, Motta said, a stable household is key.
“The children now need structure, predictability and unconditional love,” he said. “Their grandparents just have to be loving and consistent.”
TBO producer Rick Mayer and The Associated Press contributed to this report.