Jon Hammar, the Marine veteran from South Florida detained for months in a Mexican border prison for bringing his great-grandfather’s shotgun into the country, was released Friday night in what his mother called a “Christmas miracle.”
There was a last-minute delay over paperwork, but Florida Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, who had worked for his release, said that he was safely back in the United States after leaving the prison in Matamoros, Mexico.
Hammar’s mother, Olivia, said she and her husband were awoken by a 2:30 a.m. phone call Friday from her son’s Mexican defense attorney telling them the charges against the former Marine would be dropped. Hammar’s father, Jon, quickly found a flight to Texas.
“We made it from our house in Palmetto Bay to the airport in 11 minutes,” she told The Miami Herald. “This is our Christmas miracle.”
The elder Hammar was waiting for his son outside the prison along with U.S. officials from the State Department, the Customs and Border Patrol and Immigration and Customs Enforcement, according to Ros-Lehtinen’s office.
Hammar and his father may remain in Texas for a few days, Olivia Hammar said, because her son is interested in getting back the 1972 Winnebago motor home he was driving — and some nine surfboards he was transporting — when Mexican authorities arrested him.
“It will be closure for him,” she said.
Hammar was arrested Aug. 13 when he and a fellow Marine veteran, who were headed to Costa Rica to surf, tried to cross into Mexico. Hammar had been told by U.S. authorities he could declare a six-decades-old .410 bore Sears & Roebuck shotgun at the border. The firearm is suitable for shooting rabbits and birds.
But Mexican officials dismissed Hammar’s U.S. registration papers for the disassembled relic. Prosecutors charged him with a serious crime: possession of a weapon restricted for use to Mexico’s armed forces.
Hammar was sent to the Matamoros prison, where, at one point, inmates affiliated with local drug cartels called Hammar’s parents to try to extort money from them.
U.S. officials intervened, and Hammar was separated from the general inmate population, but still spent much of his time chained to a bed to keep him from fleeing.
McClatchy, The Herald’s parent company, first reported on Hammar’s plight Dec. 6, when his family decided to go public with the case. Lawmakers responded quickly. Sen. Bill Nelson, a Florida Democrat, exhorted Mexico to release Hammar. Ros-Lehtinen, a Miami Republican, used her position as chairwoman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee to put pressure on U.S. and Mexican authorities.
She lashed out at the Obama administration for what she said was a failure to offer details on efforts to free Hammar and persuaded scores of her congressional colleagues to sign letters to the State Department and the Department of Homeland Security on Hammar’s behalf.
Ros-Lehtinen took to Twitter on Friday morning to publicize Hammar’s expected release after his mother called the congresswoman’s Washington office.
“We couldn’t believe it, but prayers and hard work really paid off,” Ros-Lehtinen said. “It looks like we will have him home for Christmas.”
Nelson, whose office also spoke to Hammar’s mother, said an aide to a legal representative of the Mexican attorney general’s office confirmed the pending release.