Marine veteran back in U.S. after charges dropped in Mexico

Miami - 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 U.S. Friday night.

The Hammar family, who asked for privacy during this trying time for their son, released a statement in which they thanked those who worked to win his release: "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."

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.

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