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Cuban Migrants Shot At Before Treacherous Journey Speak Out

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MIAMI (CBSMiami) - Less than 48 hours after 26 Cuban migrants were picked up just south of Key West, another group was found in the lower Keys. And in a bizarre twist, some of the migrants said they were shot trying to board the boat to the U.S.

The Monroe County Sheriff's Office said at around 6:30 a.m., 24 Cuban men and a woman were spotted by a boater on Cook Island, which is offshore of Big Pine Key. The migrants were taken to the Dolphin Marina on Little Torch Key where they were turned over to U.S. Customs and Border Protection. They were all in good condition.

On Saturday, 26 Cubans, seven of which had gunshot wounds, were found on a boat just south of Key West.

The men told CBS4 they left Matanzas, Cuba at 3 a.m. Saturday. Jorge Luis Escalona said as they were leaving they ran into trouble when several people tried to take over their 19-foot boat.

"Someone comes out and says, 'Hey stop, you guys are not leaving, we are.' They took out a gun, the group I was with attacked them but one of them shot me," said Jorge Luis Escalona.

Escalona said several shots followed, hitting others in the group with him including a pregnant woman in the back. Injured, they kept going, boarding the boat hoping to make it to freedom.

"I just wanted to make it to the United States one way or another, but not this way," said Escalona.

The group was picked by the Coast Guard about 15 hours later.

Doctors at a Key West hospital treated and released four of the men Sunday.

Denny Varona and his wife, Yarelys Rios, who is four months pregnant, were airlifted to Jackson Memorial Hospital in Miami.

They told CBS4's Natalia Zea that after being shot while boarding the raft, which was powered by a Mercedes Benz engine, they feared the worst while sailing toward U.S. waters with 25 other Cubans.

"Every time I lifted my hand from my injury I'd see a lot of blood. I didn't think I was going to make it," said Varona in Spanish.

Rios was shot in a similar spot on her side. Both she and the baby are now safe.

In fact, most of the migrants CBS4 News spoke with had very similar non-life threatening injuries.

That raised speculation about whether the group may have inflicted those injuries upon themselves as the Coast Guard closed in.

Rios denies the wounds were self-inflicted.

She told Zea in Spanish, "I'm pregnant, and I'm not going to jeopardize my baby to be in this country. I want to be here but not like that."

Authorities plan to question the injured again about what happened.

Earlier this year, authorities said Cuban migrants desperate to reach the U.S. shore are increasingly doing things like attempted poisonings and self-inflicted wounds as rumors spread that lawmakers may soon get rid of the "wet-foot-dry-foot" policy.

"There are a lot of questions about this trip, not many clear answers, I'm sure we will find out in the coming days but no matter the circumstances it tells us the people in Cuba are desperate to leave the hell hole they're living in," said U.S. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen.

Six of the seven Cubans who were shot, and treated on land, will now stay in the U.S.

The Coast Guard said the others will likely be sent back to Cuba.

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