Abducted Haiti missionaries describe daring escapeon December 21, 2021 at 1:17 am

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The group, including children, navigated by the stars as they trekked through the bush to freedom.

Fifteen of the 17 missionaries who were held hostage in Haiti

Image source, Christian Aid Ministries via CBS

Twelve missionaries who were abducted in Haiti managed to get away on their own, their US-based church has said.

The group made their escape at night and used the stars for navigation to trek through dense bush for hours, a church spokesman told reporters.

Christian Aid Ministries announced the group were finally free last week, after being held captive since October.

The gang that seized them had initially demanded a ransom of $1m (£740,000) per hostage.

In total, 17 missionaries and their families were abducted, after they had visited an orphanage. Five others people had already been released.

“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 left the place that they were held,” church spokesman Weston Showalter said at a news conference in Ohio.

Evading “numerous guards”, the group travelled in the direction of a mountain that they had seen days earlier, using constellations to guide them.

The group included a married couple, a 10-month old baby, and children aged three, 14 and 15. There were also four adult men and two women.

They travelled through “woods and thickets, working through thorns and briars,” Mr Showalter said.

He explained how the group, including all of the children, remained silent during the ordeal and that the infant was wrapped in clothing to protect her from the prickly briars.

“Two hours were through fierce brambles. We were in gang territory the whole hike,” he said, quoting one of the escapees.

Around dawn they found a person with a phone who helped them call authorities.

The missionaries were later flown back to Florida on a US Coast Guard flight, Christian Aid Ministries said. Most have now returned to their families.

Two group members were freed in November, and another three in early December, but their identities have not been revealed. Mr Showalter did not mention whether any ransoms had been paid, but said that congregants had been gathering funds.

The gang, known as 400 Mazowo, fed the missionaries and gave them clean drinking water and baby formula for the infant, the church said. However the water for cleaning was contaminated, leading some of the escapees to get skin sores around their mosquito bites.

Mr Showalter denied reports that the group’s driver was a Haitian local, as initially reported. He said the driver was a Canadian, and that he is now also free.

“The hostages spoke to the gang leader on several occasions, boldly reminding him of God and warning him of God’s eventual judgment if him and the gang members continue in their gangs,” Mr Showalter said, adding that the group maintained a 24-hour prayer vigil while in captivity.

Haiti’s powerful crime gang

Kidnapping is one of the main activities that the 400 Mazowo criminal gang uses to finance itself.

In April, its members abducted a group of Catholic clergy who were later released, and it is unclear if a ransom was paid.

Haiti has one of the highest rates of kidnapping in the world, as powerful gangs exploit the lawless situation to profit from ransom payments.

The rise has come in the wake of President Jovenel Moïse’s assassination in July, as rival factions fight to gain control of the country in the face of a struggling police force.

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