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Ex-Marine Who Carried Loaded Guns Into Mexico Is Released

Andrew Paul Tahmooressi, now 26, crossed into Tijuana in March with three loaded guns and 400 rounds of ammo. On Halloween night, he was freed.
Photo by Raul Torres/AP

He crossed into Mexico with high-powered weapons and ammunition, against the law, but insisted he had made a wrong turn.

Seven months later, the US citizen and ex-marine Andrew Paul Tahmooressi was released by a Mexican judge, ending a media-saturated tale that galvanized voices on the American right but left observers in Mexico perplexed and frustrated.

On Halloween evening, Tahmooressi changed out of jail-issued gray sweats in Tijuana and put on civilian wear for the first time in seven months, just hours after a Mexican federal judge ordered "the immediate release of the ex-military US citizen Andrew Paul Tahmooressi" based on humanitarian grounds.


Tahmooressi had been detained in Mexico since March 31, when he was stopped trying to enter Tijuana, Baja California, with three loaded guns in his pickup truck, including an assault rifle, and more than four hundred rounds of ammo. The weapons were loaded and within his reach while driving, Mexican customs officials told VICE News, despite the fact that warning signs posted along the I-5 freeway heading south warn drivers about Mexico's gun laws.

Civilians are barred from carrying guns in almost all cases in Mexico. Tahmooressi was facing up to 21 years in a Mexican prison if convicted.

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During the seven-month saga that played out on talk radio, news channels, and social media on both sides of the border, the former marine and his supporters maintained that he suffered from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). They also said he missed the last US freeway exit in San Diego and accidentally entered Mexico.

That argument quickly proved to be untrue, after it was revealed that the 26-year-old had visited Tijuana several times before. Receipts later surfaced proving that Tahmooressi had been in Tijuana that same day, booking a hotel room for the night he was arrested, which called into question the ex-marine's defense that he was uncertain where he was headed.

Warning sign posted half a mile up the road from the border. Photo by Caitlin Trimble.

Had Tahmooressi been stopped in California, his possession of an out-of-state registered assault rifle would have required a special permit and could "be transported only between specified locations," according to the state attorney general's office. Most importantly, such guns have to be secured in self-contained lockboxes, and unloaded.


The manner in which the weapons were being transported would also have been in violation of California law. The weapons were left in Tahmooressi's unattended parked vehicle in San Ysidro, California, on the day of his arrest when he spent the day in Tijuana, and likely for many weeks before, as the ex-marine was reportedly living out of his car after driving cross country from Florida since late January.

Tahmooressi's defense argued for his release based on humanitarian grounds, arguing that Mexico's penitentiary system is not equipped to rehabilitate people that suffer from PTSD. Psychiatrists hired by both the defense and prosecution concluded that "he should be returned to his country of origin for treatment."

Throughout Tahmooressi's incarceration, his support team had several strategies employed pushing for his release, including a White House petition, a petition with close to 185,000 signatures, and an entire wing of the media advocating for his release on an almost daily basis.

They also received support primarily from Republican lawmakers who sponsored not one but two House resolution bills "expressing the sense of the House of Representatives that the Government of Mexico should immediately release United States Marine Sgt. Andrew Tahmooressi and provide for his swift return to the United States so that Sgt. Tahmooressi can receive the appropriate medical assistance for his medical condition."


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At approximately 8:30 pm on October 31, a US consular car carrying Tahmooressi arrived at the US-Mexico border in a northbound lane that was shut down exclusively for him. Ten minutes later, he crossed into the United States and was driven to the nearby Brown Field Municipal Airport, where a private plane chartered by a foundation founded by former New Mexico governor Bill Richardson stood waiting to fly him home to southern Florida.

Jill Tahmooressi, the ex-marine's mother, as well as TV personality and fellow Marine Corps veteran Montel Williams, also accompanied him. Other than a brief message on Facebook the night of his release, the official Tahmooressi support team did not comment further.

"As Andrew regains his strength, he will, in his own time and own way, appropriately acknowledge all those whose efforts were so important to winning his release," said a message posted on the official Facebook support page.

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But for many people, specifically in Mexico, the decision brings little closure to an unanswered question: Did Andrew Tahmooressi intentionally bring the weapons into Mexico?

Adela Navarro, director of the Tijuana investigative news weekly Zeta, posted a message on her Facebook page lamenting the ruling, saying: "In this country, in Mexico, you can break the law and be freed if you have the right contacts to commit impunity. Today, the US marine that brought weapons into Mexican territory was freed … Violence, insecurity, these are products of corruption and negotiations that lead to impunity."


Fernando Benitez, the third lawyer who took on Tahmooressi's case, acknowledged to VICE News on Monday that the decision to let the ex-marine go is viewed unfavorably in Mexico.

"This has been an unpopular decision down here. Most people feel that Mexico was somehow bullied, or pressured somehow into making this decision," Benitez said in an interview. "If anything, this will serve as a landmark, in a sense, to a new perspective regarding how we should treat prisoners in Mexico who are either mentally incapacitated or, like in Andrew's case … with diminished awareness of his surroundings."

In an interview with Fox News, Richardson stated that he had been in the Tijuana area for the five days leading up Tahmooressi's release, and that "all of that groundswell" brought it about.

"You know, the Mexicans are very sensitive to pressure. We're the 'big brothers' across the border, and so you have to do it delicately," Richardson said. "Ultimately it was a judge who accepted the attorney general's recommendation that because of PTSD Andrew should be released on a humanitarian basis."

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Andrea Noel contributed to this report.

Follow Caitlin Trimble on Twitter @borderzonie