April 22, 2000: Elian Gonzalez seized by SWAT team

On Nov. 25, 1999, Thanksgiving Day, fishermen off the coast of Ft. Lauderdale, Florida found a five-year-old boy clinging to an inner tube. His mother and 11 others had drowned while trying to cross into the United States from Cuba.

His name was Elian Gonzalez.

After an overnight hospital stay, he was released into the custody of his uncle and other family members. The Cuban government sent a note on behalf of the boy’s father to the U.S. mission in Havana later that day.

Juan Gonzalez wanted his son back.

For the next five months, a custody battle raged between the boy’s father and his relatives, between Cuba and the U.S., until April 22, 2000, when a SWAT team of federal agents rushed the home of the boy’s Miami relatives with semi-automatic weapons in a predawn raid. He was reunited with his father within hours.

The Herald went to press that morning with a front page that said “SWAT team takes Elian.” Here’s an excerpt from one of the related stories:

“Crying ‘Help me! Help me!’ in both English and Spanish, the frightened 6-year-old was hurried from Miami’s Little Havana neighborhood in a predawn raid, taken by helicopter to a waiting government jet and flown to Andrews Air Force Base in suburban Washington, D. C., where he was turned over to the long-waiting arms of his father, Juan Gonzalez.

The reunion was warm and emotional, said the father’s attorney, Gregory Craig. It followed five months of anxiety and extremely harsh feelings that have consumed the case of the little refugee, whose mother drowned as he was set adrift on an inner tube in the Florida Straits.”

It would take another two months before Gonzalez returned to Cuba with his father.

See The Herald’s April 22, 2000 edition to read more of this story and others in our collection of historic front pages.

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