Jon Hammar, 27, a veteran of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, had been incarcerated in the border city of Matamoros since August. He reportedly was beaten by inmates who also tried to extort money from his family in Florida.
“This is a great day for the Hammar family,” Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.) said in a statement late Friday. “I have spoken with the family and can confirm that Jon has been released from Matamoros prison and is back safely in the United States.”
A defense lawyer said Mexican authorities determined Hammar did not intend to break the law, according to the office of Sen. Bill Nelson (D-Fla.).
Patrick Ventrell, acting deputy spokesman for the State Department, said Hammar was reunited with his family at the border after officials with the U.S. Consulate in Matamoros escorted him from the prison.
"We sincerely appreciate the efforts on the part of Mexican authorities to ensure that an appropriate resolution was made in accordance with Mexican law, and that Mr. Hammar will be free to spend the holidays with his loved ones," he said in a statement.
Ros-Lehtinen and other congressional leaders had led an effort to gain Hammar’s release.
Earlier this week, Ros-Lehtinen and 68 other members of Congress sent a letter to Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and U.S. Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano urging the State Department to “make every effort” to secure Hammar’s release.
In mid-August, Hammar and a fellow veteran crossed into Mexico, planning to travel south to Costa Rica on a surfing trip. Their RV held surfboards and the small heirloom shotgun.
The letter says U.S. Border Patrol agents told Hammar he could bring the gun into Mexico if he registered it with Mexican authorities. When he crossed the border and tried to do so, the letter says, he was promptly arrested for possessing a gun restricted to the military.
Once he was behind bars, other inmates beat Hammar and phoned his parents to demand money if they wanted Hammar to live, the letter said. “The inmates even forced Jon to speak to his parents on the phone and tell them to pay the money or he would be killed,” Congress members wrote.
Nelson, who had also been working for Hammar’s release, called the news of Hammar's freedom “a good Christmas present.”