Florida couple accused of kidnapping kids booked into jail

Cuba cooperates in returning parents to face charges in Tampa

Published On: Apr 10 2013 07:04:13 AM EDT   Updated On: Apr 10 2013 12:58:44 PM EDT
TAMPA -

A Florida couple accused of kidnapping their two young sons and fleeing by boat to Cuba were handed over to the United States and imprisoned, and their children were returned to their maternal grandparents, who have official custody, authorities said Wednesday.

Joshua Michael Hakken and his wife, Sharyn, were shackled at the ankles and the wrists as they arrived at the Hillsborough County Jail just before 4 a.m. They were booked on charges of kidnapping, child neglect, and interference with custody, according to the jail's website.

Joshua Hakken also was charged with false imprisonment. His bond was set at $154,000. No bond information was listed for Sharyn Hakken.

Both are expected to make their first appearance Thursday in Hillsborough County Court, the sheriff's office said in a statement. A call and email to the public defender's office was not immediately returned. The couple will not face federal charges, said David Couvertier, a spokesman for the FBI in Tampa.
    
U.S. authorities say Hakken kidnapped his sons, 4-year-old Cole and 2-year-old Chase, from his mother-in-law's house north of Tampa. The boys' grandparents were granted permanent custody of the children last week.
    
"Our grandchildren are safe," the grandfather, Bob Hauser, told a news conference with the sheriff's office late Tuesday. "We had an opportunity to talk with them before they left Cuba."
    
Hauser and his wife, Patricia, asked the news media to give them at least 24 hours alone with the boys, the sheriff's department said in a statement. They planned to make a public statement possibly by Thursday.
    
Friends of the couple said nothing in their past hinted at the bizarre accusations, saying the Hakkens appeared to have it all, with successful engineering careers, a house in sunny southwest Florida and two children they doted on.
    
Darrell Hanecki, who employed Sharyn for nearly a decade, said she was an easygoing and relaxed employee who worked from home so she could spend more time with the kids. She brought the boys into the office a few times to show them off to her colleagues.
    
"The kids were really well-behaved. From everything I could tell, she was a great mom. Her kids were definitely her priority," said Hanecki, president of Hanecki Consulting Engineers.
    
He said Sharyn Hakken was pragmatic and responsible, graduating from the University of South Florida in 2008. She occasionally gave advice to Hanecki's daughter, an aspiring engineer, and encouraged her to stay in school and finish her degree.
    
She resigned in 2011, saying it was too difficult to juggle work with caring for her infant and toddler boys.
    
"I never once heard of any kind of marital issues. This is a train that went completely off the tracks, and I don't have any explanation for how it can go off the track that badly basically in a year and a half. It's very bizarre," he said.
    
Sharyn Hakken's husband, Joshua, also seemed to be on the fast track to success. He attended the U.S. Air Force Academy from 1996 to 1998 but did not graduate, according to academy spokesman Sgt. Vann Miller, who declined to provide further details.
    
Joshua also worked as an engineer, employed at one point by Hahn Engineering, Inc. A woman who answered the company's phone on Wednesday declined comment. Last year, the couple started their own company, listing Sharyn as the president and Joshua as the vice president, but it's unclear what type of business it was. State records also show the couple's state engineering licenses lapsed in February.
    
They bought their home in Tampa in 2004 for $205,000, according to property records, and showed no signs of trouble until a bizarre incident in Louisiana last year.
    
The Hakkens were found inside a hotel room in that state last year, acting strangely, talking about 'completing their ultimate journey' and saying they were traveling across the country to 'take a journey to the Armageddon,'" Daniel Seuzeneau, a spokesman for Slidell Police, said in a news release. Their two children were in the room at the time, along with drugs and weapons, Seuzeneau said.
    
Joshua Hakken later tried to take the children from a foster home at gunpoint, authorities said. A warrant was issued for his arrest on kidnapping and other charges.
    
Authorities have previously characterized the Hakkens as "anti-government," although Hanecki said he never saw any signs of that from the couple.
   
Hakken entered his mother-in-law's Florida house last Wednesday, tied her up and fled with his sons, the sheriff's department has said. Federal, state and local authorities searched by air and sea for a boat named Salty that Hakken had recently bought.
    
Associated Press and CNN reporters spotted the couple and the children beside their boat at the Hemingway Marina in Havana on Tuesday. A man who resembled photographs of Joshua Hakken yelled "Stop! Stay back!" as the reporter approached, but there was no outward sign of tension or distress between the family members.

The family showed no sign they knew a decision about their fate had been made. The four strolled by an outdoor restaurant as security officials kept reporters at a distance. The youngest child was seated in a stroller and the elder boy sat down on a curb.

But Cuban officials tipped the State Department off to the Hakkens' presence on Sunday and ultimately turned the family over to U.S. authorities.
    
Although the children's grandparents had been granted custody before the children were taken, 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, a spokeswoman for the Florida Department of Children and Families.