American man describes 'nightmare' after ammunition found in luggage in Turks and Caicos

ByMatt Rivers ABCNews logo
Friday, May 3, 2024
Pennsylvania man describes 'nightmare' after ammunition found in luggage in Turks and Caicos
Bryan Hagerich is facing a dozen years in a Turks and Caicos prison after airport security found ammunition in his suitcase back in February.

A Pennsylvania man spoke with ABC News as he awaits the possibility of being sentenced to more than a decade in prison for bringing hunting ammunition into Turks and Caicos.

Bryan Hagerich and his wife Ashley sat down with ABC News' Matt Rivers.

"It's been nothing short of a struggle -- a nightmare," said Bryan Hagerich.

Bryan is facing what could be a dozen years in a paradise island's prison after airport security found ammunition in his suitcase back in February.

River asked Bryan: "When you see them grab the box of ammo and you realize that it's in there, what's the first thing that goes through your head?"

"Just complete, utter surprise. Shock," Bryan recalled. "I was honestly unsure of what, you know, what's next?"

The family has been coming to Turks and Caicos for years. Their kids ages 6 and 4, always enjoyed counting down the days each time before another beach trip.

"I would certainly say it was probably the best one that we've had yet," Ashley said, referring to their latest trip before heading home.

Their vacation was over and as they were about to board a flight home to Pennsylvania, Bryan said his name was called over the PA system.

His checked bag had been selected for a random search and when authorities opened it, they found hunting ammo, which Bryan says he'd forgotten was in there after a recent trip.

In a matter of minutes, he was arrested in front of his kids and taken away.

"I remember pleading like, 'Can't we just give this to you? Can't we just pay a fine?' Like, it was an honest mistake," Ashley said. "It was a firm 'no.' So, um, it was quick. And the kids were crying and we said goodbye. And just disbelief is probably the best word I can even use to describe it."

Bryan went to jail, spending eight nights inside.

"Those were the absolute darkest days and nights of my life," he said.

A tough amendment to a law in Turks and Caicos set a minimum 12-year sentence for anyone found with illegal guns or ammunition.

The State Department and U.S. embassy have posted advisories about the law, which is designed to combat rising violence and weapons trafficking in the island nation. But it's also ensnared Americans who say they're nothing more than forgetful tourists.

Now out on bail, Bryan shares an Airbnb with fellow American Ryan Watson, who was also recently charged under the law.

"This is, like, probably the loneliest I've ever been in my entire life," Watson said. "To have somebody that's experiencing the - the very same thing as you. It gives you some bit of support."

Both men are fathers of two young kids -- children who understand their dads aren't home but don't really get why.

"The first question I'm asked at the start of every day and the last question I'm asked before I put my kids to bed at night is, 'When is my daddy coming home?'" Ashley said.

Bryan has since missed major milestones in his family's lives, including both children's birthdays.

He's scared he won't get to see his daughter graduate kindergarten, or even possibly high school.

"Twelve years is a long time. And just all those special things, you know, you look forward to as a parent, knowing that you potentially couldn't be there for those, uh, that's what keeps me up at night," he said.

A court will soon decide Bryan's sentence, which he said he accepts that he did something wrong.

"What do you say to the people who say, look, you broke the law? It's a shame what your family's going through, but you broke the law here," Rivers asked.

"I'm the first to acknowledge that," Bryan said. "I take full responsibility for my actions. I'm not one that is out here asking for forgiveness and to just let me go away. You know, there are alternative ways that this can be handled and dealt with that are within the laws of Turks and Caicos that will allow me to return home to my family. And we are just ever so prayerful that there's thought and consideration given that can allow that to happen."

"I just ask for a little grace from people to understand that, that we're all human. And this was an honest mistake," Ashley added.

"I'm a good person. You know, we love this island. We love the people, we love the culture, everything about it. One honest mistake -- to please don't let that define me for the next twelve years," Bryan said.