Joshua Hakken and his wife, along with the two young sons they are accused of abducting from a Tampa home, have apparently sailed to Cuba, authorities said. The Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office said it was working with the FBI to verify the information. A report in El Nueva Herald in Miami said the family was in the custody of Cuban immigration authorities and being attended to by consular officers for the U.S. interests section in Havana, the equivalent of an Embassy. A spokesman from the State Department was aware of the situation but could not confirm that the family was in communist island nation.
The spokesman said a high priority is put on the welfare of U.S. citizens overseas, especially children “who are our most vulnerable citizens.” Hakken and his wife, Sharyn, are seven days into what investigators have called a premeditated abduction of their sons, Cole, 4, and Chase, 2. Joshua Hakken bought a 25-foot sailboat before he broke into the North Tampa house of his mother-in-law last Wednesday, tied her up and whisked away his sons, investigators said. Surveillance video shows the 1972 Morgan sailboat gliding out of Johns Pass into the Gulf of Mexico about 3½ hours after the abduction with the family aboard. A maritime expert said sailing from Tampa to Cuba is “definitely doable.” “They could do it in four or five days under sail doing only three knots sailing 24 hours a day,” said Gary Wall, owner of SmarterSail in St. Petersburg. Seas were calm in the Florida Straits during the weekend and would not have hampered such a journey, Wall said. “It's an older boat, so it's fairly well-constructed,” he said. “It's small, so it could get uncomfortable. But they can make it in a few days, easily.” It is about 330 miles from Tampa Bay south to Havana, the capital city on the northwest shore of the island nation. “Cuba is the only country that makes sense. It's only 90 miles from Key West,” Wall said. “It's 400 miles to Mexico and all of that is across open water.” The Hakkens' legal status in communist Cuba would be in question. Americans are allowed by their own country to obtain Cuba travel licenses only for academic, religious, journalistic or cultural exchange trips. According to the State Department website, “entering Cuban territory, territorial waters or airspace (generally within 12 nautical miles of the Cuban coast) without prior authorization from the Cuban government may result in arrest or other enforcement action by Cuban authorities.” Authorities have characterized the Hakkens as “antigovernment.” The couple lost custody of their children last year after Joshua Hakken's drug arrest in St. Tammany Parrish, La., officials said. The Hakkens were talking about “completing their ultimate journey” and were traveling across the country to “take a journey to the Armageddon,” police told The Times-Picayune of New Orleans. Police alerted Louisiana's Department of Children and Family Services, which took the boys into custody and placed them in foster care. Joshua Hakken showed up at the foster family's home two weeks later with a firearm, demanding his children be returned, police said. The foster parents called 911 and Hakken fled without his sons, officials said. Louisiana officials last week awarded the custody of the boys to their maternal grandparents.