by Peter Smith | The Associated Press
Captive missionaries in Haiti found freedom last week from a daring overnight escape, shooing away their kidnappers and walking miles in difficult, moonlit terrain with an infant and other children, officials said on Monday.
The group of 12 navigated by the stars to reach security after a two-month abduction, officials from Christian Aid Ministries, the Ohio-based agency for which captive missionaries work, said in a press conference Monday.
The detailed account of their journey to safety comes after news on Thursday that the missionaries were free.
A total of 17 people from the missionary group – 12 adults and five minors – were abducted on 16 October, shortly after visiting an orphanage in Ganthier in the Croix-des-Bouquets region, where they verified that it was CAM. The children had received help from and played with it, CAM has said. The group consisted of 16 Americans and one Canadian.
His exiles from the 400 Mawzo gang initially demanded millions of dollars in ransom. Five other prisoners had reached independence earlier. It is still unclear whether the ransom was paid.
CAM’s general director David Troyer said that CAM’s supporters raised funds for a possible use for the ransom, but declined to say whether anyone had been paid for any releases.
CAM spokesman Weston Showalter said that 12 children who ran away last week and took a 3-year-old under wraps to protect him from bribing and batons.
“After several hours of walking, the day began to turn and they finally found someone who helped to call for help,” he said, his voice trembling. “They were finally free.”
12 were taken to Florida by a US Coast Guard flight, and later reunited with five hostages who had previously been released.
CAM displayed photos at news conferences showing the freed hostages being reunited, along with a video of the group singing a song that inspired them during captivity.
On the afternoon of 16 October, the missionaries were taken hostage on their way back from the orphanage.
“They had no idea what was ahead of them,” Showalter said. Only after five or 10 minutes of walking, he saw a road blockage ahead. CAM spokesman Weston Showalter said the group’s driver — a Canadian in the group — turned around, but a pickup truck chased them, and “gang members surrounded the van.” He said initial reports that the driver was a Haitian citizen were not accurate.
He said that initially he was crowded into a small room in a house, but during his imprisonment he was moved around several times.
Showalter said the kidnappers did not harm him physically. The main physical challenges included heat, mosquitoes and contaminated water for bathing, which led to wounds in some of them, he said. Sometimes small children got sick.
However, he added that it seems everyone has emerged from captivity in good health.
He said that adults received portions of small meals such as rice and beans for dinner, although captives provided suitable meals for young children.
Showalter said that the hostages would gather several times a day for prayer and religious devotion, and sometimes sang loudly enough that they could hear each other when they were in different rooms.
Showalter said he also sought to encourage other hostages, who were being held for ransom in separate kidnappings.
In time, the hostages agreed to try to escape, and chose to escape on the night of 15 December.
“When he felt the time was right, he found a way to open the door that was closed and blocked, entered quietly on the path he had chosen, and quickly left the place where They were held, despite the fact that many guards were nearby,” Showalter said.
Based in Berlin, Ohio, CAM is supported and staffed by a range of conservative Anabaptist, Mennonite, Amish, and related groups whose identities include evil, plain dress, and isolation from mainstream society.
None of the freed hostages were at the press conference. They came from Amish, Mennonite and other Anabaptist communities in Wisconsin, Ohio, Michigan, Tennessee, Pennsylvania, Oregon and Ontario, according to CAM.
After the news conference, a group of CAM employees stood up and sang “Near My God to Thee”, in strong, four-part acapella harmony that is a signature of Orthodox Anabaptist worship.