- The Washington Times - Monday, December 24, 2012

A 27-year-old Florida man who served tours of duty in Iraq and Afghanistan with the U.S. Marine Corps is back on American soil after four months spent in a Mexican jail cell.

Jon Hammar was arrested on the way to a planned surfing trip in Costa Rica after bringing an old shotgun that once belonged his great-grandfather into the country.

But his plight drew the attention of the media and lawmakers on Capitol Hill alike because his family argued he never should have been detained since the U.S. Customs and Border Protection officials told Mr. Hammar he could bring the gun along on his trip as long as he registered it in Mexico.

Mr. Hammar was on his way back to his family’s home near Miami over the weekend when he was taken by his father to an emergency room in Louisiana, according to the local CBS affiliate, WFOR-TV. His mother told the station he’d gotten a stomach bug.

But by late Sunday, another report by WSNV-TV, a Fox affiliate, indicated that Mr. Hammar had been released.Olivia Hammar, Mr. Hammar’s mother, did not immediately reply to a message on his status Monday morning.

Mr. Hammar’s family received word that their legal appeal to the Mexican courts had worked, ending his stay in a prison where he had faced as many as 15 years behind bars on the gun charge.

“The only expression that captures how we feel today is that our cup runneth over,” the Hammar family said in a statement. “First, as Christians, we are praising God, who has held all of us in the palm of His hand throughout this entire ordeal. As horrific as this has been, we know in our hearts that God can redeem this and use it in all of our lives for His good purposes. This Christmas, we will celebrate the birth of Christ as never before.”

The family also thanked Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen and Sens. Bill Nelson and Marco Rubio, all of Florida, and Rep. Mike Thompson, California Democrat, as well as their staffs, for working “tirelessly and fearlessly in your efforts to bring Jonny home.” “We can never repay you.”

“To our friends and family, who have propped us up on every leaning side: God bless you for your love toward us and our boy. And to people throughout this country who have championed our fight for justice, we have never been more proud to be Americans,” the statement said. “To the Marines and soldiers who prayed for us and repeatedly offered to physically go and get him out at any cost, this country is what it is today because of your courage and commitment. And finally to the press, you have probably played the most vital role in his release. Thank you for pursuing truth at all costs.”

Mr. Hammar, who had been beaten by other inmates when in the general population of a Mexican prison and later shackled to a wall, received strong bipartisan support in Congress, with 69 members urging the State Department to press Mexican authorities for a “speedy resolution to this extremely unfortunate situation.”

Before Mr. Hammar was released, Rep. Duncan Hunter, California Republican, a former Marine, called on all Americans to boycott travel to Mexico and criticized as inadequate the Obama administration’s efforts to secure Mr. Hammar’s release.

Mr. Hammar had planned a surfing trip from Florida to Costa Rica with a friend to help them both cope with post-traumatic stress disorder.

Mrs. Ros-Lehtinen said the young Marine was honorably discharged in 2007 and served four more years on inactive reserve subsequent to his discharge.

He was diagnosed with PTSD — having seen his Marine battalion suffer a large number of casualties in Fallujah, Iraq, and elsewhere — and voluntarily checked himself into an inpatient facility in August 2011, graduating from the program in May. Shortly after graduation, Mrs. Ros-Lehtinen said, Mr. Hammar and a fellow Marine from the inpatient program purchased a recreational vehicle and planned the surfing trip to help them cope with his stress.

Along with his surfboards, Mrs. Ros-Lehtinen said, Mr. Hammar brought with him one of his most prized possessions — his great-grandfather’s old-fashioned Sears & Roebuck .410 shotgun. She noted that this is the smallest of the traditional shotgun sizes, used for small-game hunting.

“Jon took all the precautions he believed necessary and honestly sought to fully abide by all laws and regulations regarding transporting his shotgun across the border, including asking the United States Customs and Border Protection agents for the proper procedures to do so,” the lawmaker wrote in her letter. “The CBP agents informed him that he could take his shotgun into Mexico as long as he registered it with the Mexican authorities.We are extremely concerned over the role Customs and Border Protection has played in this situation.”

A State Department official said Mr. Hammar was arrested Aug. 15 in Matamoros and charged with possession of a restricted firearm, and the U.S. consulate general in Matamoros has been providing consular services to the former Marine since the office was notified of his arrest on Aug. 16.

The official also said when the State Department learned that physical restraints were being used, it raised the issue with prison authorities, who agreed to stop using the restraints.

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