A group of Christian missionaries and their family members were kidnapped on Saturday by gang members in Haiti’s capital of Port-au-Prince.
The missionaries were abducted from a bus headed to the airport to drop off some members of the group before continuing to another destination in Haiti, a report by the New York Times stated, citing security officials from the crisis-engulfed Caribbean nation.
The missionaries — which include 16 Americans, a Canadian citizen and several children — were taken in the area of La Tremblay by what was believed to be members of the 400 Mawozo gang, the Miami Herald reported.
A person familiar with the situation claims one of the abducted Americans posted a cry for help in a WhatsApp group as the kidnapping was occurring.
‘Please pray for us!! We are being held hostage, they kidnapped our driver. Pray pray pray. We don’t know where they are taking us,’ the abductee said.
Meanwhile, a record-shattering number of Haitian migrants have fled the country, which is now ruled by gangs, and come to the US in the last month.
As many as 17 Christian Missionaries from the United States have been kidnapped by a gang on Saturday in Port-au-Prince, Haiti. Pictured, soldiers guard the Public Prosecutor’s office in Port-au-Prince (file photo)
Haitian security officials say the group, including children, were kidnapped as they were leaving an orphanage. There could be as many as 100 gangs in Port-au-Prince; no one has an exact count and allegiances often are violently fluid (file photo)
The missionaries were on their way home from building an orphanage, according to a message from Ohio-based Christian Aid Ministries.
The organization sent a voice message to various religious missions saying: ‘This is a special prayer alert. Pray that the gang members would come to repentance.’
The prayer message states that the mission’s field director is working with the U.S. Embassy, and that the field director’s family and one other unidentified man stayed at the ministry’s base while everyone else visiting the orphanage was abducted.
‘The mission field director and the American embassy are working to see what can be done,’ the voice on the recording, which was obtained by the Washington Post, stated. ‘Pray that the gang members will come to repentance and faith in Jesus Christ.’
A U.S. government spokesperson said they were aware of the reports on the kidnapping.
‘The welfare and safety of U.S. citizens abroad is one of the highest priorities of the Department of State,’ the spokesperson said, declining further comment.
Haiti is once again struggling with a spike in gang-related kidnappings that had diminished after President Jovenel Moïse was fatally shot at his private residence on July 7, and following a 7.2-magnitude earthquake that struck southwest Haiti in August and killed more than 2,200 people.
Experts estimate that gangs now control roughly half of Port-au-Prince.
Martine Moise, the widow of slain President Jovenel Moise, center, arrives to the courthouse to give testimony in the ongoing investigation into the assassination of her husband in Port-au-Prince, which happened in July
A gang member in Haiti pictures earlier this year. There has been a spike in kidnappings with the country encountering a huge amount of instability following the assassination of its president and and an earthquake earlier this year
Last month, a deacon was killed in front of a church in the capital of Port-au-Prince and his wife kidnapped, one of dozens of people who have been abducted in recent months.
At least 328 kidnapping victims were reported to Haiti’s National Police in the first eight months of 2021, compared with a total of 234 for all of 2020, according to a report issued last month the United Nations Integrated Office in Haiti known as BINUH.
Gangs have demanded ransoms ranging from thousands of dollars to more than $1 million, according to authorities.
The State Department would not immediately comment on the reports of a kidnapping and the U.S. Embassy in Haiti did not respond either.
Ronise Lindor does the laundry next to a street flooded with garbage in the Portail neighborhood of Port-au-Prince, Haiti, seen earlier this month
Gangs have been accused of kidnapping schoolchildren, doctors, police officers, busloads of passengers and others as they grow more powerful.
In April, one gang kidnapped five priests and two nuns, a move that prompted a protest similar to the one organized for this Monday to decry the lack of security in the impoverished country.
‘Political turmoil, the surge in gang violence, deteriorating socioeconomic conditions – including food insecurity and malnutrition – all contribute to the worsening of the humanitarian situation,’ BINUH said in its report. ‘An overstretched and under-resourced police force alone cannot address the security ills of Haiti.’
On Friday, the U.N. Security Council voted unanimously to extend the U.N. political mission in Haiti.
The kidnapping of the missionaries comes just days after high-level U.S. officials visited Haiti and promised more resources for Haiti’s National Police, including another $15 million to help reduce gang violence, which this year has displaced thousands of Haitians who now live in temporary shelters in increasingly unhygienic conditions.
Among those who met with Haiti’s police chief was Uzra Zeya, U.S. under secretary of state for civilian security, democracy, and human rights.
‘Dismantling violent gangs is vital to Haitian stability and citizen security,’ she recently tweeted.