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Americans detained in Turks and Caicos after ammunition was found in their luggage describe "nightmare" situation: "Just so unreal"

Tourist on being detained in Turks and Caicos
American tourist speaks after being detained in Turks and Caicos for ammo in luggage 02:49

A Florida grandmother was headed home with her daughter from a surprise Mother's Day dream vacation to Turks and Caicos when it turned into a nightmare. Airport security say they spotted two bullets lodged under a flap in Sharitta Grier's carry-on bag.

"I never experienced nothing like that," Grier, of Orlando, said in an interview on "CBS Mornings." "It was just so unreal to me. And all they kept saying was like, 'This is a serious, um, charge, 12 years mandatory to prison.' 12 years?"

Grier, a grandmother, said she spent a few nights in jail.

"They chained me to a chair by my leg," she said. "It's cold. Scared. It was awful. It was so awful. I couldn't sleep, no peace. A nightmare."

Grier is one of five Americans facing a potential 12-year mandatory prison sentence after being detained in the British territory over ammunition allegedly found in their luggage. All five of the Americans said they did not realize the ammunition was in their bag.

When asked how she thought the bullets ended up in her luggage, Grier said she locks the box that stores her ammunition and puts it in the top of her closet when her grandchildren visit. She thinks it could have fallen out and into her luggage when she put it away.

"Only thing that I can think of was me putting it up in the top of my closet, the ammunition fell out the box inside of the, out the box inside of the suitcase, I'm gonna say carry-on and fell up under that flap in the carry-on. It was no way for me to see it. I couldn't just open the bag and see it in the bottom," she said. "I would have to pull that whole flap out the bottom of that suitcase to see it. It was impossible for me to see it, hear it or anything in that bag."

Possessing a gun or ammunition is illegal in Turks and Caicos, but was previously punishable by a fine. In February, a court order required a mandatory prison sentence, even for tourists, in addition to paying a fine.

Another one of the five is Ryan Watson, a father of two from Oklahoma, who has been away from his family for over 40 days will be in court next week. 

Watson was arrested April 12 when four rounds of hunting ammunition were found in his carry-on luggage as he and his wife, Valerie Watson, were trying to head home after a vacation. Valerie Watson isn't facing charges and has returned to the couple's children in Oklahoma. 

"I wake up everyday thinking that it's gonna make more sense to me, um, and it doesn't," said Watson. "I can tell the kids are hurting. It's probably too much weight for an adult to bear, um, let alone a 7 and a 9-year-old."

Watson earlier told CBS News the ammunition may have been left in his bag after he went to Texas on a hunting trip. The Transportation Security Administration acknowledged its officers missed it when the Watsons went through security in Oklahoma City at the start of their trip to Turks and Caicos.

"We're never gonna be able to stop everything that we want to stop," said TSA administrator David Pekoske. "So we do have these misses. We take them very seriously and do everything we can to figure out why."

Another tourist, Bryan Hagerich, who is a father of two from Pennsylvania, expects to be sentenced Friday, possibly providing a sign of what's to come for the other Americans.

"I think, you know, Brian's case is gonna set the precedent for all of us," Watson said. "We're still remaining really heavy in prayer right now that, um, that exceptional circumstances are found."

Meanwhile, there is growing pressure on the tourist hotspot, with the U.S. governors of Pennsylvania, Virginia and Oklahoma sending letters asking for leniency. A congressional delegation recently left the islands after meeting with top leaders.

"Like thousands of Americans each year, these individuals traveled to your beautiful territory for leisure," the U.S. governors wrote. "We humbly ask that your government—in its wisdom—temper justice with mercy and recognize that these men made mistakes but had no apparent malicious intents."

"They were very clear that, you know, there's going to be times for discretion and expedition and everybody is on the same side of wanting this to come out," said Pennsylvania Sen. John Fetterman.

Charles Washington Misick, the premier of Turks and Caicos, will deliver a "speech" on the ongoing situation at 10 a.m. EST Thursday, his office announced on social media. It will mark Misick's first public comments on the issue. 

In a May 20 news release on Turks and Caicos' government website, it acknowledged the U.S. delegation's trip and said, "The Governor and the Premier confirmed – as per the constitutional separation of the executive and judicial branches – they cannot intervene nor comment on ongoing legal cases before the courts. They explained that the Turks and Caicos Islands have clear laws prohibiting the possession of firearms and/or ammunition and strict penalties are in place to serve and protect all who reside and visit the Turks and Caicos Islands."

Grier, who has a July 5 court date, is trying to staying optimistic.

"You know, it's hard, very hard. Cause I got grandkids. I got five grandkids. I have three children. I have a loving family back home. I have like a community," she said. "I have a whole life back home. A whole life back home, you know? So it's a lot."

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