Joshua and Sharyn Hakken made their first court appearance Thursday morning in Tampa. Judge Walter Heinrich ordered them to have no contact with any of the victims or witnesses in the case.
They’ll face a judge during a pretrial detention hearing on Monday on charges of kidnapping, child neglect, false imprisonment, burglary and interference with custody. Judge Walter Heinrich told the couple that they could be ordered to remain in jail without bond until their cases are resolved, depending on the evidence presented at Monday’s hearing.
Monday’s hearing was requested by special prosecutor Jennifer Johnson, who declined to comment after the hearing on why she asked for it. The Hakkens are being represented by the public defender’s office, which has also declined comment.
Four-year-old Cole and 2-year-old Chase are now with their maternal grandparents, Bob and Patricia Hauser, who have legal custody. The children were taken from them last week. They planned to talk about the ordeal publicly later Thursday morning.
Joshua and Sharyn Hakken arrived in Florida early Wednesday with their sons and the family dog, accompanied by federal, state and local authorities after being handed over by Cuban officials. The children were “happy and sleepy” on a flight back to the U.S., sheriff’s spokeswoman Debbie Carter said in an email Wednesday.
Friends of the couple say they seemed to have a charmed life, doting on their two young boys, buying a comfortable home and building successful careers as engineers.
“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,” said Darrell Hanecki, who employed Sharyn Hakken for nearly a decade at Hanecki Consulting Engineers.
Hanecki said Wednesday that she was an easygoing and relaxed employee who worked from the home they owned in sunny Tampa 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,” Hanecki said.
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 an infant and toddler.
Sharyn Hakken’s husband, Joshua, also seemed to show few signs of trouble. 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 Hakken also worked as an engineer, employed at one point by Hahn Engineering, Inc. A woman who answered the company’s phone Wednesday declined comment. Last year, the couple started their own company, listing Sharyn as president and Joshua as vice president, but it’s unclear what type of business it was.
Then, last year, police in Louisiana came upon a disturbing scene in a hotel room: The Hakkens were inside with drugs and weapons, 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.
After that arrest, the Hakkens lost custody of the boys, who were initially sent to a foster home. Authorities say Joshua Hakken tried and failed to kidnap them at gunpoint from the home.
Last week, the boys’ maternal grandparents were granted custody. That’s when police say Joshua Hakken broke into the home, tied up his mother-in-law, took the children and eventually set sail for Cuba. Federal, state and local authorities searched by air and sea for the sailboat Joshua Hakken had recently purchased. They were found in Cuba, thanks to a crucial tip from the person who sold the boat to Hakken.
The couple may have believed they could find refuge there, but experts said Cuba had little to gain politically by holding them. The communist island shares no extradition agreement with the U.S., and relations between the two have been icy for decades. But Cuban officials said Tuesday they would hand over the family.
The blinds at the Hakken household were drawn tight Wednesday. An “infowars.com” bumper sticker was pasted on their mailbox, a reference to conservative radio personality Alex Jones’ website.
A white SUV was in the driveway where neighbors said they usually saw a small boat parked. The boat was such a common presence that it was noticeable when it disappeared last week, said neighbor Simon Castillo.
“I’m just surprised the little thing made it all the way to Cuba,” Castillo said.
Other neighbors said they rarely saw the Hakkens in the neighborhood, which some described as not being particularly social.
Lindsay Fleming, who lives two doors down from the Hakkens, recalled last speaking to the Hakkens about a year ago outside their homes during an annual air show put on by nearby MacDill Air Force Base.
Fleming said Sharyn Hakken offered him marijuana in front of her kids.
“They were smoking pot and they offered me some, at least his wife did,” Fleming said. “(Joshua) was like, ‘Don’t do that!’”
Nancy Weining, who said she is an acquaintance of the children’s grandparents, called them a “wonderful family.” She said the Hausers had lost touch with their daughter and son-in-law after the Hakkens lost custody of their boys.
“I knew they had left them with them and nobody knew where they were,” Weining said. “Everybody was looking for them, trying to figure out where they were.”
Associated Press writer Kelli Kennedy contributed to this report from Miami.