WESTON, Fla. (MCT) — Surviving a roadside bomb and two concussions while serving two combat tours in Afghanistan are not the biggest challenges that Marine Corps Sgt. Andrew Tahmooressi has faced.
“He would say that being in a Mexican prison is his most torturous experience,” said Jill Tahmooressi of her 25-year-old son. “He is highly despondent. He is anxious. And he doesn’t believe he should be in jail another day.”
As for his parents, Jill and Khosrow “Paul” Tahmooressi: “It’s like living on the edge of panic, all the time,” she said. “Nothing is certain.”
More than four months ago, the Marine reservist from Weston was arrested after Mexican customs agents found a rifle, shotgun, pistol and about 500 rounds of ammunition in his pickup after he crossed the border at San Ysidro, Calif.
Under the Mexican justice system, the evidentiary hearings now going on could take months, according to the Tijuana-based lawyer, Fernando Benitez, who is now representing Tahmooressi. If convicted of having unlicensed weapons and ammunition in Mexico, he could face up to 21 years in prison.
“Am I prepared for that? Absolutely not,” said Jill Tahmooressi.
Andrew Tahmooressi said he became confused after pulling out of a parking lot, took a wrong turn onto a freeway and couldn’t turn back. He said he had no intention of entering Mexico, knew the weapons were illegal there and immediately told Mexican authorities he had them.
He was first jailed at Tijuana’s La Mesa Penitentiary, where his family says he was subjected to torture by the prison guards, who beat him and stripped him naked, and was threatened by other inmates. Mexican prison authorities have denied the abuse allegations.
A month later, he was transferred to El Hongo State Penitentiary outside Tecate. There he is being kept in a one-man cell, receives regular visits from U.S. officials and can make collect phone calls home.
Thanks largely to the efforts of Jill Tahmooressi, a nurse, the plight of her son has received national attention.
A petition to the White House has more than 133,000 signatures, and he has received visits in jail from two members of Congress, Rep. Ed Royce (R-Calif.), who chairs the House Foreign Affairs Committee, and Rep. Matt Salmon (R-Ariz.), chairman of the Western Hemisphere Subcommittee.
On Aug. 5, State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said at a press briefing that consular officials had visited Tahmooressi 20 times since his March 31 arrest and attended his most recent hearing last Monday.
Yet the 2007 graduate of Cypress Bay High School may be no closer to freedom today than he was months ago, Jill Tahmooressi said.
The journey that landed Tahmooressi in a Mexican jail includes a post-high school stint in Alaska fishing for crab, two tours in Afghanistan and, after his honorable discharge in 2012, enrolling at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in Daytona Beach.
He hoped to become a commercial pilot, his mother said.
He left school after he began struggling with a lack of concentration, anxiety and feeling constantly tense and on guard — classic symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder, his mother said.
Encouraged by his family to seek help, Tahmooressi packed his belongings into a Ford Lariat and headed for California, where he was to enroll in a PTSD treatment program.
He was staying in various hotels in the San Diego area while hunting for a permanent place to live, and he had all his possessions — including the three guns — in his truck, his mother said.
Tahmooressi’s wrong turn has turned his mother’s life upside down. She said she has kept her job with Miami Children’s Hospital, where she is nursing director of ambulatory services. Still, getting her son out of Mexico consumes her, she said.
Since her son’s arrest, she has traveled to Southern California five times.
Although she is, along with news reporters, barred from attending his court hearings, she has been granted 20-minute meetings with her son following judicial proceedings.
Legal fees alone could reach $100,000, she said.
The family has already exhausted the $65,000 that Andrew had in his bank account. A private trust, Andrewfreedomfund.com, was set up to accept contributions to cover legal fees and his medical treatment, Tahmooressi said.
She remains hopeful, she said.
“We have our Christian faith,” she said. “Andrew is now able to call us most nights, and we pray together. We listen to religious music. I send him books.”
Of her son’s jailing, Tahmooressi said, “This makes no rational sense.
“His courage inspires me. I have to keep my spirits up for him, so I compartmentalize. When I collapse, I collapse in secret.
“All I care about is getting Andrew back to America and into a productive life.”
(c)2014 Sun Sentinel (Fort Lauderdale, Fla.)
Distributed by MCT Information Services.