TAMPA, Fla. (AP) — The Florida parents charged with kidnapping their boys from their grandparents and sailing to Cuba on a boat called "Salty" to elude authorities are facing a judge for the first time since they were forcibly returned from the island nation.
Joshua and Sharyn Hakken make their first appearance in court Thursday to hear the charges they're facing, including kidnapping, child neglect, false imprisonment, burglary and interference with custody.
Four-year-old Cole and 2-year-old Chase are now with their grandparents, who planned to talk about the ordeal publicly Thursday morning.
The couple arrived with their sons in Florida early Wednesday morning, accompanied by federal, state and local authorities after being handed over by Cuban officials.
The couple 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 parents lost custody of their sons who were cared for by their grandparents.
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, Fla., 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.