TAMPA, Fla. Joshua and Sharyn Hakken seemed to have a charmed life, doting on their two young boys, buying a comfortable home and building successful careers as engineers. It all derailed last year when police in Louisiana found the family inside a hotel room with drugs, weapons and promises from the parents to take "a journey to the Armageddon."
The couple is now jailed on charges they kidnapped the boys from their grandparents in Florida and sailed to Cuba on a boat called "Salty" to elude U.S. authorities. The family arrived in Florida early Wednesday morning, accompanied by federal, state and local authorities after being handed over by Cuban officials. Four-year-old Cole and 2-year-old Chase are now with their grandparents and their parents in jail, closing a bizarre ordeal that began with an Amber Alert and ended with diplomatic intervention.
Friends of the couple said the family seemed happy and had no marital problems.
"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 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' Web site.
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!"'
The Hakkens were jailed Wednesday at the Hillsborough County Jail on charges of kidnapping, child neglect, and interference with custody, according to the jail's website. Joshua Hakken also was charged with false imprisonment. His bond was set at $154,000. No bond information was listed for Sharyn Hakken.
Both are expected to make their first appearance Thursday in Hillsborough County Court. A call and email to the public defender's office was not immediately returned. The couple will not face federal charges, said David Couvertier, a spokesman for the FBI in Tampa.
The children were "happy and sleepy" on a flight back to the U.S., sheriff's spokeswoman Debbie Carter said in an email. They and the family dog, Nati, are with their grandparents until child welfare officials can again review the case in light of the abduction.
Their grandfather, Bob Hauser, said at a news conference late Tuesday that he had spoken with the boys before they left Cuba. He and his wife asked the media to leave them alone for 24 hours so they could spend time with their grandchildren.
"Our grandchildren are safe," Hauser said Tuesday.