A jailed U.S. Marine veteran who spent eight months behind bars in Mexico for crossing the border with loaded guns arrived back in the U.S. Friday night.
A Mexican judge ordered the immediate release of retired Marine Sgt. Andrew Tahmooressi on Friday, according to family spokesman Jonathan Franks.
Franks said the federal judge released him without making a determination on the charge against him.
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After crossing into the U.S., Tahmooressi was all smiles as he joined his mother, former New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson and Montel Williams, a former talk show host who now works as a veterans advocate, to fly out of Brown Field's San Diego Jet Center on a private plane.
Friends and family spent about ten minutes hugging and reuniting with the veteran. Their plane lifted off just after 9:30 p.m. on their way to Tahmooressi's home state of Florida.
“Tonight, he was absolutely ecstatic," said U.S. Rep. Ed Royce (R-CA.) "It was a special treat to see his Marine buddy there, his old commanding officer, to see some of the people in his family who are important to him, his mother. He’s going to see his sister here in a little bit.”
Neither Tahmooressi nor his mother Jill would speak to the media Friday night, but the family issued the following statement: "It is with an overwhelming and humbling feeling of relief that we confirm that Andrew was released today after spending 214 days in Mexican Jail."
The 26-year-old Florida man said he got lost a San Diego freeway ramp that sent him across the San Ysidro Port of Entry with no way to turn back on March 31. Mexican authorities found three loaded guns and ammunition in the back of his truck.
His long detention brought calls for his freedom from U.S. politicians, veterans groups and social media campaigns.
In Mexico, possession of weapons restricted for use by the Army is a federal crime, and the country has been tightening up its border checks to stop the flow of U.S. weapons that have been used by drug cartels.
His attorney, Fernando Benitez, says Tahmooressi carries loaded guns with him because his weapons, which were bought legally in the U.S., make him feel safer. He is often distracted, which could have contributed to him becoming lost, Benitez said.
Still, Mexican prosecutors say Tahmooressi broke the law, and they have denied claims by his attorney that he was held for about eight hours without a translator before authorities notified the U.S. Consulate.
But a psychiatrist hired by Mexican prosecutors to examine the Afghanistan veteran agreed with the defense that he should get PTSD treatment in the United States, noting in a Sept. 30 report that Tahmooressi, who now serves in the Marine reserve, feels like he is constantly in danger.
"Andrew was diagnosed officially a week before this all started, and everyone knew his situation. His treatment just began. Now, it’s been thwarted for seven months," said Williams, a Marine Corps veteran. "We got to get him back into treatment so this young man can get his life back.”
Tahmooressi did not admit wrongdoing, and he still maintains his innocence, his attorney said.
His mother has said her son's time in a Mexican jail has been worse than his two tours in Afghanistan.
Tahmooressi left Florida for San Diego in January to get help after dropping out of college, unable to concentrate or sleep, his mother said.