The remaining members of a group of Canadian and American missionaries who were kidnapped in October by a gang in Haiti have been released, police announced on Thursday.
The group of hostages, which originally numbered 17 people, traveled to the Caribbean nation on a trip organized by Ohio-based Christian Aid Ministries and was abducted by a gang known as 400 Mawozo after visiting an orphanage.
Authorities had said the gang had demanded $1m per person, but it was not immediately clear whether any ransom was paid.
The gang’s leader, who goes by the nickname Lanmo Sanjou and has appeared in internet videos wearing a Spider-Man mask, had said he was willing to kill the hostages unless his demands were met.
“We glorify God for answered prayer – the remaining 12 hostages are FREE!” Christian Aid Ministries said in a statement. “Join us in praising God that all 17 of our loved ones are now safe.”
The Ohio group said it hopes to provide more information later. “We’re feeling great,” said Ron Marks, minister at Hart Dunkard Brethren Church in Michigan, where five of the hostages were members.
Carleton Horst, a member of the church, said church members received a text message Thursday morning from “someone connected to the situation” that all of the hostages had been released.
A mother and four of her children who belong to the congregation were among the hostages. Horst, who is friends with the family, said the church is rejoicing and he is “elated that that portion of things is finally over, just praise the Lord for that.”
The missionaries were kidnapped by the 400 Mawozo gang on 16 October. Five children, including an eight-month-old infant, were among the group of 16 US citizens and one Canadian. Their Haitian driver also was abducted, according to a local human rights organization.
Two of the hostages were released in November, and three more earlier this month. They were not identified, but members of the Hart congregation told local media in Michigan two were from Hart.
Other hostages in the group are from Wisconsin, Ohio, Tennessee, Pennsylvania, Oregon and Ontario, Canada, according to the missionary group.
“Today is the day we have been hoping for, praying for, and working so hard to achieve,” said Congressman Bill Huizenga, whose western Michigan congressional district includes Hart.
“I want to thank members of the hostage negotiation team for their diligence in securing the safe release of all the hostages. This is a great day for families in Michigan and across the nation who have been worried about the safety of their loved ones.”
Gangs have extended their control of territory in Haiti since the assassination in July of President Jovenel Moise. One gang coalition in October created a nationwide fuel shortage by blocking access to storage terminals.
Haitians say everyone from well-heeled elites to working class street vendors face the threat of abduction by the gangs.