Greta Van Susteren Interviews Sgt. Andrew Tahmooressi
Here is the transcript of tonight’s Greta Van Susteren On the Record interview with Sgt. Andrew Tahmooressi.
GRETA VAN SUSTEREN, FOX NEWS HOST: Andrew, nice to see you.
SGT. ANDREW TAHMOORESSI, USMC (RET.): Nice to see you, too, Greta.
VAN SUSTEREN: Boy, I never thought we’d have this chance, at least that after 200-some days, I’d given up hope.
TAHMOORESSI: Oh, yes? You gave up hope?
VAN SUSTEREN: No, I didn’t give up hope.
TAHMOORESSI: I didn’t think so. OK.
VAN SUSTEREN: A lot of people behind you.
TAHMOORESSI: Yes, I know.
VAN SUSTEREN: Are you different now than before you ended up in prison?
TAHMOORESSI: I wouldn’t say different. I would say I’m pretty much the same. But with — you know, maybe I think I’ve learned some lessons. I’ve learned some lessons, some life lessons. And, you know, being in prison was a time of self-reflection. And it just helped me to notice a lot of things and a lot of my faults, so now I want to work on working to fix them.
VAN SUSTEREN: And I told you when we met a few minutes ago in person, we have spoken on the phone, is I thought at the first, what? Made a wrong turn? I didn’t buy it until I went out and drove it and saw it was exactly what I would have done. So you make an accidental turn and all of a sudden, you’re in Mexico.
TAHMOORESSI: Yes. That’s how it was.
VAN SUSTEREN: So I mean I guess that I don’t see that quote as “false,” I see it as a bad turn.
TAHMOORESSI: Yes, I know. I’m just hard on myself I guess, Greta.
VAN SUSTEREN: Why are you so hard on yourself?
TAHMOORESSI: I guess maybe the — always being used to being disciplined maybe and not being able to be myself, feeling like I can’t be myself in certain circumstances in the past and the past haunts me, I guess.
VAN SUSTEREN: Is any of it related to PTSD?
TAHMOORESSI: You know, my life wasn’t perfect before I joined the Marine Corps. So I had you know, joining the Marine Corps it was tough and it was amazing. You’ve got to become this, you know, war dog, you know, is how I saw it.
VAN SUSTEREN: When you in the prison, was the fact that you were — in that first place, the first prison we’re talking about — the fact that you were an American or a Marine, did that in any way make you a special target? Did anyone say anything to you about that?
TAHMOORESSI: I felt like a target. I did feel like a target. I had been watching a lot of conspiracy films and it made me change the way I thought about things and things that I believed and I just can’t be myself it seems like.
VAN SUSTEREN: Are you sitting here with me?
TAHMOORESSI: I’m being myself.
VAN SUSTEREN: Do you trust me or are you paranoid by me?
TAHMOORESSI: I trust you, Greta, I do trust you. I do trust you. But you know, I never have been in the spotlight like this before, too. It’s crazy.
VAN SUSTEREN: That I agree — it’s so crazy being in the spotlight. It’s like one day, everything’s sort of normal. The next day, you’re in prison. The next day, you’re in the spotlight.
TAHMOORESSI: And then I’m walking around here kind of like a show, you know, it seems like. It’s like I’m on a show right now and I’m a show. I don’t like being the show. I just like to be, you know, just normal.
VAN SUSTEREN: Let’s go back to March 31st.You went to Mexico, parked your car where I’ve parked — we’ve parked our car right where you parked your car. You went over into — walked over, got a room, couple of hours later come back, get in the car. And make that fateful turn.
VAN SUSTEREN: And then you went into Mexico they stopped you. What did you say to them when they stopped you?
TAHMOORESSI: What did I say to them? I told them — they asked me what do you have in your truck? And I told them, I said, I have all my stuff in here, clothes and whatnot and I have three guns. I told them that immediately. I told them I didn’t want to be in Mexico. I wanted to be in America and I wanted to do a U-turn and I couldn’t — there was no way to do it from what I saw. And he said that he was going to help me get back to America. He was very helpful, very — he was a nice man.
But then there was one guy who stepped in, who wasn’t — didn’t seem to know what was going on and just assumed, I suppose. He was just like, oh, we got a guy out here with three guns and he just went about handling it the way he handled it.
VAN SUSTEREN: Right when you’re at the checkpoint.
VAN SUSTEREN: And you’ve said, I have guns and they got the guns, what goes through your mind?
TAHMOORESSI: You know, I’m like, man, this could be very bad. I was thinking, hopefully these guys are going to be considerate and caring and understanding. But you know, I started feeling the things just something shift there. You know, — they were very helpful and then it shifted.
And then it — I knew, you know, this is — this could be bad. So I did everything I thought I could do. I tried calling 911 but it seemed pretty much like there was no help there for me.
VAN SUSTEREN: So they took you to first — you were in two prisons in Mexico, right?
TAHMOORESSI: Yes, two prisons.
VAN SUSTEREN: The first one was what?
TAHMOORESSI: La Mesa. What happened was they took me to the first prison where I was taken by myself and I was put in a small cell with one other dude and two other guys in the cell next to me.
And they were arguing. They were fighting and this guy seemed really sketchy. So I was sketched out. I was sketched out. And I was just sleeping, thinking, just lying there thinking what’s going to happen next.
And I just lost all these awesome things in life and you know, I felt like I lost a person that I loved very much, too, this girl that I was dating. And it seemed like she was going to leave me at that point. So I was — I was heartbroken and feeling helpless and then from there, maybe two days later, they took me to another prison. I know there’s like some messed-up people in this world. And like that’s — prison’s a good place to find them.
VAN SUSTEREN: How many were in the cell with you at this first place?
TAHMOORESSI: Starting off, there was maybe eight people and then it progressed to maybe 20 people in a cell that was fitted for six men or six prisoners.
VAN SUSTEREN: Any — I take it there’s no room for any cots maybe or maybe two steel beds? What did they have in the room?
VAN SUSTEREN: Were these other men in the cell, were they cordial to you? Or were they — were you terrified of them? They give you a hard time or…?
TAHMOORESSI: No, you know, they were cordial to me. They were nice to me and you know, I was just myself, just worrying a whole bunch and you know, if I would have played it cool with them, I think things would have been cool. But I wasn’t playing cool. I was worried. I was vulnerable, feeling very vulnerable.
So they see my weakness and I think they started taking advantage of my weakness, just to maybe have fun with me. Or maybe they feel threatened by me because I was this odd-out guy, you know, kind of keeping to himself over there.
VAN SUSTEREN: How did they treat you? What did they do?
TAHMOORESSI: Well, you know, it was just things that they were saying that was really bothering me.
VAN SUSTEREN: Like…?
TAHMOORESSI: Like, there was a prisoner there who was, you know, already getting at me, picking at my head kind of, trying to. And he succeeded. But he made it seem like a tic-tac-toe game that we played, he made it seem like it was the last game of tic-tac-toe that I would ever play.
VAN SUSTEREN: How did you get your first call out to even tell anybody where you were?
TAHMOORESSI: It was probably maybe 24 hours after they brought me to the police station or the prison. I got the call, maybe 24 hours approximately. I did get to call, though, once I knew things were going bad at the border and I told my mom, you know, what the situation was and that I was going to probably get arrested and what exactly happened and she was, you know, very worried about me. And she’s been very worried about me this whole time, I think.
VAN SUSTEREN: So I understand, so you were arrested at the border. You’re taken to the police station, held for some time. Then you go to this first facility and you’re in a big cell with all these and one of the guys is — you’re playing tic-tac-toe with, they’re giving you a hard time. Right? Did the other ones, did they give you a hard time, too?
TAHMOORESSI: Yes. There was — there was one, two, maybe three, maybe three guys, three guys giving me a hard time. I was paranoid. I was wondering what was going on. And I asked one guy, I was like, hey, what are those two guys talking about over there?
And they’re just talking and they’re putting down telephone numbers or whatever. I’m like — I can’t speak any Spanish and they’re speaking Spanish. So I’m just curious as to what they’re saying.
And there’s just one guy there that speaks some English. So I asked him what they’re talking about. And he said, oh, they’re trying to — they’re hiring a hit man, is what he said. So I was like, “They’re hiring a hit man?” I mean, what does that mean? What does that mean, they’re hiring a hit man? What’s about to happen?
And a guy comes in, another guy comes in maybe a day later and he would fit kind of the persona that I would think was a hit man. But I was just, you know, I was just bugging a whole lot. Just, you know, trying to get out of there. Like, they just locked me up in this cage and I’m just – I’ve been walking about free my whole life, you know, and maybe I was the only guy in there to be in there for the first time, too, I believe. So these guys are all, you know, veterans of this and here I am, like the first time in jail and just crazy to get out of there.
VAN SUSTEREN: The time that you were in there, you and I spoke on the phone and I said, how are you? And you said something like you’re good. OK. I — were you good?
TAHMOORESSI: Well, you know, I was wanting to be good. I was telling myself that it was good, that it’s good, it’s good. But really, no, it wasn’t good. It wasn’t good. But you know, I try to look at the positive that’ll come out of it. And I was like this is going to bring our family closer together and this is hopefully going to bring American closer together and America and Mexico closer together.
VAN SUSTEREN: A lot of people are mad at Mexico. You know, we sort of wanted you at a very minimum — deport him, send him back here. We’ll take him. A lot of people aren’t happy with Mexico. They, you know — it could have been sped up a lot faster.
TAHMOORESSI: Yes, definitely it could have. It definitely could have. I think they knew, you know, that it wasn’t right and a long time before I got arrested. I mean, before a long time that I got released. I think they knew, they felt the gist of it all. And they were — I think they felt in their hearts that I wasn’t guilty. But they decided to keep me there.
VAN SUSTEREN: Why?
TAHMOORESSI: Why? You know, just their reasons, their — they want to look a certain way. Politics, politics maybe. I don’t know why. I don’t know.
VAN SUSTEREN: Were you physically restrained at any point or harmed at all? Did they physically restrain you at any point in your incarceration in the whole 214 days?
TAHMOORESSI: Did they ever…?
VAN SUSTEREN: Like handcuff you?
TAHMOORESSI: Yes, yes.
VAN SUSTEREN: Under what circumstance? Were you ever handcuffed to a bed or anything like that?
TAHMOORESSI: Yes, I was. I was handcuffed to a bed, four point restraints, two arms like this, two legs like this for about a month.
VAN SUSTEREN: Why?
TAHMOORESSI: Why? Because I wasn’t behaving. I wasn’t a behaved prisoner. I was lashing out and not lashing out, like being disrespectful, I never wanted to come off as disrespectful. But I just couldn’t take it all.
VAN SUSTEREN: What’s it like to be restrained that long?
TAHMOORESSI: What’s it like? Well, it’s frustrating. It’s very frustrating. You’ve just got to try to relax and I was just trying to relax and, you know, just accept it.
VAN SUSTEREN: I think I would have begged them to undo it. I mean, did you ask them to, like, stop restraining me?
TAHMOORESSI: Well, I didn’t beg them. But I did politely ask them. I would say, hey, how much longer am I going to have to do this for? I was there in four point restraints, where prisoners were walking by me, you know, uncuffed. I felt very vulnerable right there. I felt extremely vulnerable, like I can’t do anything to protect myself if I had to.
VAN SUSTEREN: I don’t understand why they would do that.
TAHMOORESSI: Well, I believe they did it because they were afraid of me, afraid that I might do something again and really end up doing something like successfully killing myself or harming somebody and that they would get in trouble for it by not being able to control the situation. So they found that — I think they felt that by them just tying me up, there was no chance of me doing anything. And that was OK with them, so that they wouldn’t get in trouble.
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VAN SUSTEREN: Why did you have those guns in the car?
TAHMOORESSI: Because I like guns. I enjoy guns. You know, I grew up liking guns. I had a BB gun when I was a kid. And I’d shoot targets with my BB gun with my dad. I shot trap with my sister and taught my sister how to shoot trap. It’s like, you’re stressed out and some people go and smoke a cigarette but some people go to the gun range and go shoot their gun and relieve some stress.
So that’s how I see it for myself. You know, I know a lot of people use guns for the bad reasons. But I mean, I prefer that the bad guys have theirs. I mean, they’re – the bad guys are always going to have theirs. But then there’s going to be someone like me who’s got mine. And if something ever did happen, I hope that I’d have the courage to go and you know, if need be, if it had to happen, that I could defend myself or somebody else.
VAN SUSTEREN: Is there any point in which you’ve had thoughts of using the guns badly? I mean, like have you ever been worried someone’s coming after you or —
TAHMOORESSI: No, not badly. There was this once instance where I did make a mistake and —
VAN SUSTEREN: What happened?
TAHMOORESSI: So what happened was I was in a position where I felt like someone was threatening my family member and I felt very threatened and I kept asking this man to leave the house and this guy comes to me and gets in my face and threatens me and we’re arguing with each other and I had my concealed carry permit so I had my gun sitting in the small of my back because I’d just cleaned it.
I thought, you know, pulling out a gun would be a quick resolution to the issue instead of — I was trying to avoid confrontation by doing that, and you know, he backed off. He did back off.
VAN SUSTEREN: Police called?
TAHMOORESSI: I called the police myself. I’m not going to do anything with my guns. I don’t even think I’m going to have any more guns, to be honest. I might not. I might just have a gun stored away in a range if you guys still allow me to, but this is just a normal thing with a person in my situation.
Us Marines have guns on them all the time. Our gun is our safety. So when you get here and you’re vulnerable, you feel like out in this world because you have all your boys there in the Marine Corps with you, and you’re all protecting each other, and then you get out here and you’re all by yourself. You know, you feel very vulnerable. And your gun when you’re over there, is — it’s kind of like your safety I guess. And it’s easy to go from there to the civilian world carrying a gun around because, you know, you feel like going over there and people are after you. And it’s just a different world from there to here. It’s a totally different world.
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VAN SUSTEREN: Did you try to escape or try to commit suicide while you were in prison?
VAN SUSTEREN: Both?
VAN SUSTEREN: Which one came first?
TAHMOORESSI: The escape.
VAN SUSTEREN: And what was that? Where was that? Which facility? Number one or the second facility?
TAHMOORESSI: Number one.
VAN SUSTEREN: Number one?
TAHMOORESSI: Number one.
VAN SUSTEREN: And what happened there?
TAHMOORESSI: Well, once I decided to escape, once I felt like there was — I felt extremely afraid. I was very afraid. I felt like it would be the last night of my life right there, that these guys were going to kill me. That these guys were going to brutally kill me, I was thinking.
I built up strength to run away because I thought running away was my only hope to get away from a situation like that.
VAN SUSTEREN: And so what happened? Obviously you didn’t escape. You attempted, they grabbed you? How far did you get?
TAHMOORESSI: I got pretty far. I got pretty far. I made it to the front gate but there was no way around the front gate. I had maybe climbed over like four barbed wire fences and scared away some dogs and almost got caught, almost got captured. One guy reached up to grab my foot as I was climbing up the fence and he had just brushed me with his fingertips. It was exhilarating, maybe, to say.
VAN SUSTEREN: What happened after they caught you trying to escape? Did they then lock you down or what was their response to it?
TAHMOORESSI: Their response was — after I had given up, after I had surrendered, I laid on the ground. I laid on the ground and the guard comes over running, and you know, starts whacking me with a stick. He starts whacking my legs with the stick. Another guard put his boot on my head in the ground and then they dragged me to the wall and put me on my knees up against the wall and then they just started hitting me. They started hitting me, hitting me in the face with open palms, nothing full-blown but you know, just like (simulates hitting).
Then after they were done beating me up a little bit then – which I was actually joyful to take that beating. I was happy about that beating.
VAN SUSTEREN: Why?
TAHMOORESSI: I knew the beating was coming. They were telling me stories about the guards, about how, you know, if someone acts up or does something wrong, they get beat. So I already knew it was going to happen to me. So I was glad as can be to take that beating, I was like, ‘bring it, just bring it on.’ Like, I was just there, joyful, knowing that I got away from that place. So the beating didn’t bother me.
And then they took me to a bunk bed in a cell and they strapped my arms around a post of the bunk bed and my legs around the bottom post of the bunk bed after they had stripped me down and I was just there, standing like this, naked.
VAN SUSTEREN: Totally naked?
TAHMOORESSI: Totally naked like that, in the cold, at night, just there. No one tells me how long I’m going to be there for. I’m just there, naked.
VAN SUSTEREN: How long were you strip-searched and basically held down like that, locked down like that?
TAHMOORESSI: For maybe nine hours, eight hours. Eight hours, nine hours.
VAN SUSTEREN: So they first had you standing like that? And what were you cuffed to? A pole?
TAHMOORESSI: Yes, a pole.
VAN SUSTEREN: And the expectation was that you would stand like that for nine hours naked, cuffed like that?
TAHMOORESSI: You know, I don’t know how long the idea was of me standing there but I thought, it’s got to be the morning. I was thinking it’s got to be tomorrow that they’ll let me go. So they let me go that morning. They took me to a small cell, a small, dark cell where I was put by myself and then put on the bed and with one leg up over here and my arm over here. One leg this way, my arm over here, handcuffed here and there. I was just there lying on the bed like that.
VAN SUSTEREN: Naked still?
TAHMOORESSI: No, no, not naked. They had given me some clothes. They had given me some clothes and I would just lay there, just waiting. I was telling the guards, you know, I’ve got to call my mom. Panicking, you know, I got to call my mom, got to talk to my family.
VAN SUSTEREN: How long were you in that room sort of extended like that?
TAHMOORESSI: For 12 hours maybe.
VAN SUSTEREN: And then what happens?
TAHMOORESSI: And then — and then I have to go pee. So I can’t get to the toilet that’s right here but there’s a Styrofoam cup over here. So I go and I grab the Styrofoam cup and I pee in the Styrofoam cup and I put it in the toilet. I can’t flush so I’ve got to smell my urine.
Then I have to do something else. So I go and take that same cup. And remember my arm is over here and my leg is over here. And I can’t — you know, I can’t. So, you know, I managed to somewhat manage that.
And I felt like guards outside were having fun with the whole thing. Like they were mocking me outside, making fun of me. So that was hard. So I’m like some kind of animal in a cage here with no – like I don’t even have life in me.
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VAN SUSTEREN: At some point, you tried to take your life in this Mexican prison. This was after the attempted escape. Do you have any idea about how long after that it was?
TAHMOORESSI: It was maybe two or three days afterwards.
VAN SUSTEREN: And what were the circumstances? What happened?
TAHMOORESSI: I was thinking — I was worried and I was thinking that these guys are going to break out of their cell and come after me and the guards are going to leave me here for them to get me.
And I was thinking that after that, that they would — after they’d get me, they’d get information from me about the rest of my family and I’d break and tell them or you know, maybe I’d tell them. I don’t know. I was worried about that. And I was thinking, well, maybe taking my life is the best thing.
VAN SUSTEREN: So what happened?
TAHMOORESSI: So there was light bulbs up on the ceiling, two of them, two neon light bulbs, the tubular kind. And I saw them and you know, I was thinking I knew I was in a bad place and I saw the light bulbs and I said, why would they have these light bulbs in here? Someone could kill themselves with these.
But I was looking at them as my way out. I was looking at these light bulbs as my way out. So I took one of them and I broke it on the toilet. After they had taken me off the handcuffs, they had trusted me that I wasn’t going to do anything else. They started to trust me, they took my handcuffs off of me at this point and then they gave me a blanket also so I was starting to earn some trust but then I was just, you know, snapping back into the worries and the paranoia.
And I took the light bulb and I broke it and then I ended up stabbing myself in the neck with it, lost quite a bit of blood and passed out. The guards thankfully heard the light bulb being broken, came in and saw me there I guess, on the ground there in my blood, and took me to the doctor there at the prison. And they put some — they put the IVs in me. They put a couple IVs in me and I got revived. I came back.
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VAN SUSTEREN: Andrew, did you know that we were sitting outside your second prison, waiting to get in at the time?
TAHMOORESSI: I did know that, yes. Yes, I did know that.
VAN SUSTEREN: How did you hear that?
TAHMOORESSI: Through my mom.
VAN SUSTEREN: When she went in? Because she was allowed to go in and see you.
TAHMOORESSI: Yes, she was allowed to go in and see me. After they had stripped her down completely bare and checked her.
VAN SUSTEREN: It was incredible, wasn’t it?
TAHMOORESSI: Yes, incredible that they would do that to my mother.
VAN SUSTEREN: How about the court room? Because we wanted to go in and watch the court proceedings, make sure you were OK, see how things were going. But we were told that the room isn’t big enough. About how big was that courtroom? Because they wouldn’t let us in.
TAHMOORESSI: Oh, it could have fit you, Greta. They could have fit you and a cameraman probably but they don’t want it.
VAN SUSTEREN: In the 214 days, did you — as the days were sort of marching on, did you think like, OK, tomorrow I’m going to get out, the next week. I mean, what was going through your mind about getting out or expectations?
TAHMOORESSI: I kept on thinking it’s going to be this month. It’s going to be really soon. It’s going to come really soon. I kept on getting my hopes up, you know, and it just kept on dragging on and dragging on.
VAN SUSTEREN: You know, you were at risk for 21 years, I think, in prison. Did they tell you that? I mean, it was incredible.
TAHMOORESSI: Yes, yes, yes. At first, I thought I was talking to everyone about my situation and they were saying, oh you’re probably going to be in here for six years, or five years, six years and I was just thinking, oh man. You know, that’s a long time. And I was like, well, OK. Mom, send me some college books or something and I’ll earn a degree in this place or something like that. But I just thought — I was, you know, it is what it is. And I’ll just have to accept it.
VAN SUSTEREN: So, alright. Let’s now go toward the good news, when you find out you’re getting out. I assume you’re sitting in your cell and what happens? Take me through it. Who comes to the door? What do they tell you?
TAHMOORESSI: Well, my mom was telling me she thinks it’s going to be really soon. I was looking for signs of, hey, it’s going to be today. And there were some signs there, how they told me to take a shower and get ready and shave. They told me to clean up so I clean up and then they had me sign some paperwork that hadn’t been signed yet. So I was like, oh, these are all good signs. I think it’s going to be today.
And then they come to my cell, maybe in the late afternoon and they’d say, someone, so-and-so’s here from the courthouse to have you sign some paperwork. So I was like, OK. Hopefully this is it. And that was it. The lady came from the courthouse and had the paperwork for me, saying that my immediate and absolute release has been commanded by somebody. So that was that.
VAN SUSTEREN: What did it feel like when you finally got the idea that after 214 days, this is at least over. What did it feel like?
TAHMOORESSI: Glad, happy.
VAN SUSTEREN: Is there anything you need? And I know you’re a Marine, I know you’re tough. I’ve talked to you when you were in the Mexican prison and you acted like everything was fine. I knew it wasn’t fine but you’re a Marine.
TAHMOORESSI: Yes, yes.
VAN SUSTEREN: Always a Marine. Is there something we can do to help make your life better? How about a job? You got a job?
TAHMOORESSI: Yes, a job would be excellent.
VAN SUSTEREN: A job will help. That’s a good start.
TAHMOORESSI: A job would help. Getting busy would help, you know, doing productive things would help. It’s not just going to see a doctor, it’s doing good things, you know, and good things for other people. Being busy and just helping out.
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VAN SUSTEREN: Andrew, is there anything we haven’t covered that you’d like to say?
TAHMOORESSI: Well I don’t want this to come off as these people against those people, or those against these. But that, you know, we’re not — we make mistakes and, you know, I think if we take the lesson from this and that is that we need to look after each other, we all need to look after each other. We all should care for each other and take the time to care, pretty much. And, you know, not blame anybody either. Not blame a group as a whole but just, you know, the few individuals that made some decisions that caused this to happen.
VAN SUSTEREN: A lot of Americans, especially the vets — you got people like Montel, a Marine – they really want to help you and they really appreciate the fact —
TAHMOORESSI: I know, I know.
VAN SUSTEREN: — they appreciate what you did for our country.
TAHMOORESSI: Yes, I know. I know they do. I know.
VAN SUSTEREN: And they want to make sure you’re OK.
TAHMOORESSI: Yes. I’m OK. I’m going to be OK.
VAN SUSTEREN: Oh, I know.
TAHMOORESSI: I’m going to be OK, everyone. I’ll be just fine, I promise you. I’ll be just fine.
VAN SUSTEREN: I believe that.
TAHMOORESSI: We’ll get over this. We’ll all get over this.
VAN SUSTEREN: Thank you, Andrew.
TAHMOORESSI: Thank you.