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Boys reunite with grandparents after alleged kidnapping by parents

By Greg Botelho and Mariano Castillo, CNN
updated 7:06 PM EDT, Wed April 10, 2013
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • NEW: Sheriff says parents "did not participate" as courts weighed child custody
  • NEW: The person who sold a 25-boat to Josh Hakken later tipped off authorities
  • The Hakkens are accused of abducting their sons, sailing with them to Cuba
  • The two boys are back with the boys' maternal grandparents

(CNN) -- Just over a week ago, they were two little boys living with their grandparents and the family dog, Nati, in Tampa, Florida.

That was then.

First, police say Chase and Cole Hakken's father broke into the home and tied up the boys' grandmother before whisking the two children away -- one day after he and the boys' mother officially lost their parental rights. The 2- and 4-year-old boys ended up sailing to Cuba with their parents, triggering an international manhunt that ended this week.

Chase and Cole are now back in Tampa, trying to resume their life with Nati and their grandparents.

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"Right now, we're just looking forward to sitting, getting them in our arms, hugging them and being with them and getting them home where they will be safe again," the boy's maternal grandfather, Bob Hauser, said overnight Tuesday, just hours before being reunited with the boys.

The boys' mother and father, meanwhile, could be calling prison home for some time.

Josh and Sharyn Hakken spent most of Wednesday in Hillsborough County jail. They're set to make their first court appearance Thursday morning, on charges of kidnapping, auto theft and child neglect. Josh Hakken faces an additional charge of false imprisonment.

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Given Florida sentencing guidelines, a conviction on the kidnapping charges alone could mean the Hakkens will spend the rest of their life behind bars.

Police: Parents talked of 'journey to the Armageddon'

The Hakkens' ordeal began last June when Josh and Sharyn and the their two sons were staying together in a hotel in Slidell, Louisiana.

Responding to a call, police officers found the parents "acting in a bizarre manner," Slidell police said in a statement. Inside the room were their two boys, as well as narcotics and weapons.

"They were talking about 'completing their ultimate journey' and were traveling across the country to 'take a journey to the Armageddon'," police said about Josh and Sharyn Hakken.

Louisiana authorities took Chase and Cole from their parents following that incident.

About two weeks later, their father showed up at a foster family home "with a firearm demanding the return of his children," Slidell police said. Josh Hakken fled after the foster parents called 911.

Over the subsequent months, Josh and Sharyn Hakken "did not participate in the system," Hillsborough County, Florida, Sheriff David Gee said late Tuesday, without offering much detail.

"As a result of that, the authorities in Louisiana gave custody to the grandparents," the sheriff added.

That transfer became official April 2, when a Louisiana judge terminated Josh and Sharyn Hakken's parental rights.

The next day, at 6:30 a.m., Patricia Hauser told police that Josh Hakken saw his boys once again -- when he entered her Florida home, tied her up, then sped away with Chase, Cole and the family dog in a silver 2009 Toyota Camry.

They met up with Sharyn Hakken, who was waiting in a pickup truck, sheriff's investigators said. They drove to a parking garage, and eventually ended up on a 25-foot sailboat named Salty.

Josh Hakken had purchased that boat from a person, who later tipped off authorities after word got out about the brothers' abduction.

That's the boat they took south -- leaving their Florida port just ahead of a storm that challenged authorities looking for them.

"A small boat in a big ocean, it's really tough," Gee said.

It was at the Hemingway Marina, on Tuesday, that CNN found the family -- hunkered inside the boat, under the watch of Cuban security forces.

That morning, U.S. officials in Havana told CNN that they were afraid Cole and Chase could be in danger from their parents.

Armed Cuban security agents, meanwhile, watched over the Hakkens most of the day -- until the family was led away, peacefully, that afternoon.

Boys' 'fine, happy and sleepy' on return to U.S.

Cuba and the United States are divided by far more than the Straits of Florida.

But this week, on this case, U.S. officials repeatedly expressed their appreciation for the Cuban government's "extensive cooperation."

The Cuban foreign ministry said the Hakkens' boat pulled into a marina just west of Havana in bad weather on Sunday. "From the first moment," the two governments began exchanging information. To that point, FBI spokesman Dave Couvertier said the U.S. State Department learned about the Hakken family's whereabouts from Cuban authorities.

That all led to the return of Hakkens, and the family dog, to the United States.

But this time, they flew -- and were accompanied by Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office detectives, as well as U.S. federal and state law enforcement authorities.

U.S. diplomatic officials waited with the family at Havana's airport until a plane carrying American law enforcement officials arrived to bring them all back to Florida.

Checked out by a medic, Chase and Cole were "fine, happy and sleepy" as they boarded the plane, the sheriff's office said. The aircraft touched down around 1:30 a.m. Wednesday at Tampa International Airport.

Some time later, the boys and dog were reunited with the grandparents.

Their parents, no longer on the lam, are being held away from the general population of the Florida jail.

CNN's Patrick Oppmann, Kim Segal and John Zarrella contributed to this report.

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