TAMPA, Florida (Reuters) - Two Florida boys whose parents are accused of kidnapping them and taking them by boat to Cuba believe that the journey was one big vacation, their grandmother told reporters on Thursday.
Patricia Hauser, who police say was tied up last week by the boys’ armed father before he took the children from her Tampa home, appeared with her husband Robert on their lawn to thank everyone who helped return the children safely.
As Cole, 4, and Chase, 2, waited inside, the Hausers asked the three dozen gathered journalists not to question the boys about their parents or their ordeal.
“They are treating it as if they went on vacation,” Patricia Hauser said. “They’ve been told that everyone has been told of their sailboat trip to Cuba and airplane ride to Tampa and that everyone wants to take their picture.”
Moments later, the grandparents went back into the house and re-emerged holding the boys’ hands and gently encouraging them forward.
The boys, wearing striped polo shirts and cargo shorts, were timid at first but quickly warmed up to the crowd. Cole grinned broadly, stuck out his tongue then dropped to the ground and struck a pose lying on his side with his head propped up by one hand.
He then got up and hugged his younger brother, who was smiling and clutching a toy truck and car that he held out for everyone to see.
A judge denied bond on Thursday for their parents, Joshua and Sharyn Hakken, who are jailed on charges that include kidnapping the boys and interfering with child custody.
The grandparents have legal custody of the boys. The parents are accused of abducting them and sailing with them to Havana, where Cuban officials handed them over to U.S. authorities.
Despite strained relations between Cuba and the United States, Cuban authorities allowed an FBI plane to land in Havana to pick up the family and return them to Tampa on Wednesday.
Patricia Hauser said the children were “well cared for” during the journey, had been checked by doctors and were fine except for a few insect bites that were visible on their faces.
“We want them to get back to everyday schedules and be carefree little boys again,” she said.
Nati, the family 15-year-old rat terrier that went along on the voyage, had suffered from slight dehydration, ear problems and old-age ailments, but was doing fine after being checked by a veterinarian, Hauser said. The dog did not appear at the news conference.
The Hausers, both in their 60s, were granted custody of the boys after Joshua Hakken was arrested last year in Louisiana. Police found marijuana in the family hotel room after the couple attended an “anti-government” rally, Hillsborough County Sheriff’s officials said.
Police were concerned that the Hakkens were making what seemed to be suicidal statements. When the boys were placed temporarily in a Louisiana foster home, Joshua Hakken went to the facility waving a gun and pounded on the front door, sheriff’s officials said.
Editing by Jane Sutton and Grant McCool