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 press 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 Oct. 16 shortly after visiting an orphanage in Ganthier, in the Croix-des-Bouquets area, where they verified it had received aid from CAM 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.
CAM General Director David Troyer did say supporters of CAM raised funds for possible use for a ransom, but he refused to say whether one was paid for any of the releases.
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 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.
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 Oct. 16.
“They had no idea what was ahead of them,” Showalter said. Only five or 10 minutes after getting underway, 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,” CAM spokesman Weston Showalter said. He said early reports that the driver was a Haitian national were not accurate.