Jonny Hammar came home for Christmas. Hopes were high through Friday as news spread that jailed U.S. Marine veteran Jon “Jonny” Hammar, imprisoned in Matamoros on a gun charge, would soon come home.
The hopes turned into belief — and relief — as Jonny Hammar and his father, Jon, were reunited on the U.S. side of the Rio Grande late Friday night.
“I thank the American people, I thank everybody and I thank many people in Mexico who were also fighting for Jon because they knew he was innocent,” said Eddie Varon-Levy, an attorney who represents Hammar.
“It’s going to be a wonderful Christmas, at least for the Hammars and me.”
Varon-Levy declined to comment about where or how Hammar returned to the United States, but he said more information about the Marine veteran’s release would be available within the next few days.
He said his client was not immediately available for photos due to his physical condition.
Jon Hammar, the Marine veteran’s father, and supporters spent much of Friday near the B&M Bridge on Sam Perl Boulevard, where they waited patiently for the young Hammar to cross from Matamoros to Brownsville. At about 8 p.m. Friday, the elder Hammar moved to wait at the Veterans International Bridge at Los Tomates.
“I don’t care how long I have to wait,” Jon Hammar said, adding the only deadline he had was getting his son home to Miami for Christmas. “We don’t have any Christmas shopping. We didn’t do any of that. But I’ll show up and tell my wife, ‘Look what I’ve got.’”
Jonny Hammar was jailed in August on a weapons charge in Matamoros.
His father and a handful of U.S. veterans stood across from the B&M Bridge all day, ready to welcome the young veteran home.
The elder Hammar hovered around a rental truck or nervously waited inside the Advance Auto Parts Store near the bridge with a State Department official, taking telephone calls.
Reports that Jonny Hammar would be released started early Friday.
The father arrived in Brownsville from South Florida by noon Friday.
“The day didn’t really have a beginning, it just kind of folded in from the last,” the elder Hammar said, adding that he only had two hours of sleep. His tired eyes told a story of a worried father knowing his son would soon be home.
Varon-Levy said early Friday that a judge approved his “ampario,” a motion for dismissal of the charges.
Regardless of the wait Friday and the months his son spent in a jail, including time chained to a bed, the elder Hammar said he had no ill feelings toward the Mexican government. All he wanted was for his son to come home.
As Jon Hammar waited near the bridge, long lines of motorists backed up waiting to cross into Mexico, honking their horns.
Family members and an attorney say the young Hammar tried to declare an antique .410 hunting shotgun with Mexican customs in Matamoros, as his family has said that U.S. Customs and Border Protection officials advised him he could. Instead of letting Hammar cross, he was taken to jail.
Mexican officials had said despite the fact that Hammar declared the weapon the Mexican Customs doesn’t preclude arrest and prosecution regardless if he declared or stated to CBP agents that he was in possession of the weapon.
The family of the young Marine veteran refused to let their son sit in jail. They lobbied members of Congress and others in attempts to get their son back home in time for Christmas.
Gerardo Acevedo Danache, vice president of the Tamaulipas Chamber of Commerce, said he was glad to hear the news of Hammar’s release.
Acevedo Danache had called on Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto to pardon Hammar by Christmas. “We represent 14,000 businessmen, and we believe the action affects the image of Mexico and also Brownsville. When you scare tourists, you
are not sending a good message.”
When Hammar initially entered Matamoros, he was planning to go to Costa Rica with a friend to surf.
“I really, really believe the media played a big role in this. I am happy that this will happen because there is no reason we should continue with this,” Acevedo Danache said in a telephone interview.
“I am very happy for him, for the family and for us because that will show we can work together even if we have different cultures. We have more important issues to deal with,” the vice president said.
Acevedo Danache said it’s important to concentrate on the happy ending for the Hammar family, saying the forces in Mexico and the United States contributed to his eventual release.
As day turned to night, numerous other people began gathering near the B&M Bridge waiting for Jonny Hammar’s release.
Art and Kathy Nelson, Winter Texans from Chicago, said they felt a need to go to the bridge to show support for the younger Hammar. Art Nelson is a Marine veteran.
“We came here to welcome him home and we are staying to welcome him home,” Art Nelson said, after waiting at the bridge for at least six hours, adding it was the least they could do considering Jonny Hammar had spent five months in jail.
Also at the bridge was U.S. Army veteran Harry Goldfein from Minnesota. He, too, said he wanted to support the young Marine veteran.
Hammar served in Fallujah, Iraq, and Afghanistan. He was honorably discharged in 2007.