Kidnapped missionaries in Haiti found freedom last week by making a daring overnight escape, eluding their kidnappers and walking for miles over difficult, moonlit terrain with an infant and other children in tow, according to the agency they work for.
Ransom money was raised to pay for the release of the missionaries who were abducted on 16 October, but a dozen of them managed to flee, navigating by the stars to reach safety, Christian Aid Ministries said on Monday
Seventeen people from the missionary group – 12 adults and five minors – were seized shortly after visiting an orphanage in Ganthier, in the Croix-des-Bouquets area. The group included 16 Americans and one Canadian.
Their captors from the 400 Mawozo gang initially demanded millions of dollars in ransom. Five other captives had earlier reached freedom. It is still unclear if any ransom was paid.
CAM general director David Troyer said supporters of CAM raised funds for possible use for a ransom, but he refused to say whether money was paid for any of the releases.
“Other people who sought to help us provided funds to pay a ransom and allow the negotiation process to continue,” David Troyer, director of Christian Aid Ministries, said during a news conference at the group’s Millersburg, Ohio, headquarters.
“After many days of waiting and no action on the part of the kidnappers, God worked in a miraculous way to enable the hostages to escape,” Troyer said.
The 12 who fled last week carried the infant and 3-year-old, wrapping the baby to protect her from the briars and brambles, said CAM spokesperson Weston Showalter.
“After a number of hours of walking, day began to dawn and they eventually found someone who helped to make a phone call for help,” he said, his voice beginning to choke. “They were finally free.”
The 12 were flown to Florida on a US Coast Guard flight, and later reunited with five hostages who had been released earlier.
CAM displayed photos at the news conferences showing the freed hostages being reunited, along with a video of the group singing a song that had inspired them during their captivity.
The missionaries were taken hostage on their way back from the orphanage on the afternoon of 16 October.
“They had no idea what was ahead of them,” Showalter said. Only five or 10 minutes after getting under way, they saw a roadblock up ahead. The group’s driver – the one Canadian in the group – turned around, but a pickup truck pursued them, and “gang members surrounded the van,” Showalter said. He said early reports that the driver was a Haitian national were not accurate.
He said the hostages were initially crowded into a small room in a house, but were moved around several times during their captivity.
They were not physically harmed by the kidnappers, Showalter said. He said the main physical challenges included the heat, mosquitoes and contaminated water for bathing, which led some of them to develop sores. Sometimes the young children got sick, but all the hostages emerged from captivity in good health, he said.
The adults received small food portions, such as rice and beans for dinner, although the captors provided plenty of food suitable for the small children, he said.
The hostages gathered during the day for prayer and religious devotions, and sometimes sang loud enough for each other to hear when they were in separate rooms, Showalter said.
They also sought to encourage other hostages who were being held for ransom in separate kidnappings, Showalter said.
Over time, the hostages agreed to try to escape, and chose the night of 15 December to flee.
“When they sensed the timing was right, they found a way to open the door that was closed and blocked, filed silently to the path they had chosen to follow, and quickly left the place they were held, despite the fact that numerous guards were close by,” Showalter said.
None of the freed hostages were at the press conference.