Florida surfer, former Marine to be released from Mexican prison

For Jon Hammar, being able to spend Christmas at home is much more than a dream come true. It’s a Christmas miracle.

Hammar, 27, has been in a notorious Mexican prison since Aug. 14 on a restricted firearm charge. The former U.S. Marine had brought his great-grandfather’s low-gauge shotgun on what was planned as a motor home surfing adventure to Costa Rica.

He had hoped to use the weapon to hunt small game, but was detained at the border crossing in Brownsville, Texas, and imprisoned in Matamoros a day later.

Hammar, who suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder, faced up to 15 years without possibility of early release when his case was finally heard Friday. But the Miami Herald reports that Hammar will be released.

Stated Sen. Bill Nelson, a Florida democrat who was among many government officials trying to persuade Mexico to release Hammar: “No American should be in a Mexican jail for five months without being able to have his case in front of a judge. We’re grateful; this is a good Christmas present.”

Top image showing Jon Hammar chained to his prison bed and second image showing him surfing are courtesy of Olivia Hammar.

Hammar shared space with hardened criminals. At one point his family received an extortion threat, via telephone, from inmates affiliated with drug gangs.

Hammar has yet to share his horror story. Those details will emerge, presumably, after he’s safely on U.S. soil and probably after the holiday season.

His father, Jon, on Friday flew from the family home in South Florida to Brownsville to greet his son, who was to be escorted across the border by members of the U.S. Consulate. He hopes to retrieve the motor home, a 1972 Winnebago, and nine surfboards that were inside when he and fellow Marine veteran Ian McDonough were detained.

Hammar and McDonough had planned to complete what they regarded as the ultimate surf trip, according to Surfline. They hoped to drive from Palmetto Bay, Florida, through Mexico and Central America. In Costa Rica they’d live off the land and surf remote, uncrowded beaches.

According to reports, Hammar completed what he thought was the proper paperwork in the U.S. for the .410-gague shotgun, a 60-year-old weapon he had hoped to use to hunt small game.

However, Mexican officials disregarded the paperwork and arrested Hammar. McDonough was allowed to return to the U.S. Prosecutors charged Hammar with possession of a weapon restricted for use to Mexico’s armed forces.

He was placed in the general prison population initially. But after the extortion threat, according to the Miami Herald, U.S. officials intervened and Hammar was separated. Still, he spent much of his time chained to a bed to prevent him from trying to escape.

The campaign to help win Hammar’s freedom gained momentum during his time in prison. Pleas were made to the White House on his behalf. An online petition, created by his younger sister, Katie, had received more than 26,000 signatures through early Friday.

Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, a Miami Republican and the family’s congresswoman, used her position as chairwoman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee to put pressure on U.S. and Mexican authorities.

“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.”

Surfing is likely to be in Hammar’s short-term plans. Riding waves is more than a passion. According to Surfline, it’s part of his treatment plan.

Hammar joined the Marines after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. The former lance corporal was deployed to Afghanistan and Iraq before receiving an honorable discharge in 2007.

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