Captive 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, officials said Monday.
The group of 12 navigated by stars to reach safety after a two-month kidnapping ordeal, officials with the Christian Aid Ministries, the Ohio-based agency that the captive missionaries work for, said Monday at a news conference.
The detailed accounting of their journey to safety comes after news Thursday that the missionaries were free.
A total of 17 people from the missionary group — 12 adults and five minors — were abducted October 16 shortly after visiting an orphanage in Ganthier, in the Croix-des-Bouquets area, where they verified it had received aid from the organization and played with the children, CAM has said. 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.
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 organization spokesman 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 U.S. Coast Guard flight, and later reunited with five hostages who were released earlier.
The missionary group 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.
Michèle Montas, a Haitian journalist and former U.N. spokesperson, told CBS News last week “the kidnapping of these American missionaries and their prolonged detention have brought the attention of the world on the deteriorating security situation in Haiti.”
Montas’ husband, Jean Dominique, was killed in 2000 after the duo founded Radio Haiti, the country’s leading news media.
“Kidnappings have become a daily occurrence … . Gangs are controlling access to Port-au- Prince from the southern part of the country,” Montas said. “The Mawozo gang that kept the foreign missionaries captive northeast of the capital have been attacking passenger buses, taking their belongings from them with a police force unable to control the situation and a de facto government totally powerless in controlling the security situation.”
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