MIAMI (CBSMiami) – Jon Hammar, the 27-year-old former Marine from Palmetto Bay, is now back in the United States after spending almost five months imprisoned in Mexico.
Hammar was released Friday night from the Matamoros jail and driven over the U.S.-Mexico border into Brownsville, Texas.
The release was met with relief from the Hammar family.
Hammar's mother, Olivia, cried tears of joy outside their home when she received word via email her son had crossed the border.
"John is in U.S. territory. God Bless America," Olivia Hammar said surrounded by friends who cheered when they heard Jon was safe. "I've never been more grateful for this country. I really am."
Republican Congresswoman, Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, who had written the President of Mexico urging Hammar's release, said in a statement late Friday night, "I am overcome with joy knowing that Jon will be spending Christmas with his parents, family and friends."
"I want to thank my colleagues in Congress, and the American people, who have shown unwavering support for Jon and his family in their time of need, and who have been so instrumental in making this happen," Rep. Ros-Lehtinen said. "This could not have been accomplished without their relentless advocacy for Jon."
Hammar was arrested over the summer in Mexico because he carried an antique shotgun over the border. He and his family said it was an honest mistake.
"No American should be in a Mexican jail for five months without being able to have his case in front of a judge," said Senator Bill Nelson (D-FL). Nelson made a direct appeal to the Mexican ambassador to the U.S. "We're grateful; this is a good Christmas present."
Outside the Hammar family home in Palmetto Bay, yellow ribbons remained tied to trees. Neighbor Lee Fish told CBS 4's Peter D'Oench,"It was because of all the pressure from the Congressmen and his supporters that this release happened. And it was all about a will to survive."
"You guys in the media deserve a lot of credit," Ros-Lehtinen added. "You guys got the story out there and now this guy is alive. It is one more person who is not in a terrible jail. Our mantra is to being Jon home by Christmas."
A family spokeswoman and friend said Hammar's father, Jon Sr., was at the U.S. border with Texas waiting for his son's arrival and planned to drive back to Palmetto Bay with him and be back by Christmas Day.
The Hammar family praised everyone who helped get Jon home including Congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, Senator Nelson, Senator Marco Rubio and Congressman Mike Thompson.
In a recent photo, Hammar was shown in prison chained to a bed causing concern amongst his family.
"It's unbelievable," Mrs. Hammar told CBS 4's Lauren Pastrana. "I could not have imagined it was this bad, sort of the depth and the depravity in that system."
Hammar's troubles began in August when he took off with a buddy to Costa Rica to surf and deal with post traumatic stress from the war.
Once across the border, though, he was immediately arrested, placed in a notoriously dangerous prison some say is run by a drug cartel and charged with bringing a firearm into the country – a federal crime.
The shotgun, a family heirloom, was actually cleared by U.S. Customs.
"Customs weighed the gun, measured the gun, I think took pictures of the gun and gave him paperwork to fill out and then he took that paperwork across to the Mexican side, declared the gun and was immediately arrested," said Olivia Hammar.
The Hammar family praised the press for its role in getting Jon released, but did ask for privacy over the holiday season.
"Finally to the press you have probably played the most vital role in his release. Thank you for pursuing truth at all costs," the family said in a statement. "We will spend this holiday bathed in gratitude to all of you."
It was not clear Friday night whether Jon would be driving or flying to Florida from Texas. No matter what mode of transportation they choose, the Hammars will be reunited by Christmas.
"I'm going to be cooking all weekend," Olivia Hammar said. "Everything he's ever enjoyed eating, I will be cooking for him."
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