NewsLocal NewsHolmes County News


'They were finally free': 12 missionaries made daring nighttime escape from Haitian kidnappers, representative says

3 year old boy (taken Saturday after deliverance).jpg
10 month old baby (taken Saturday after deliverance).jpg
Posted at 9:48 AM, Dec 20, 2021
and last updated 2021-12-20 18:32:57-05

BERLIN, Ohio — After weeks of being held in captivity in Haiti, the remaining 12 of 17 missionaries held captive in Haiti were reunited over the weekend with their fellow missionaries after they made a daring escape from their kidnappers in the middle of the night, announced Christian Aid Ministries, the Holmes County-based organization that the missionaries were working with in Haiti.

Weston Showalter, a spokesperson for Christian Aid Ministries, detailed the moment the 17 missionaries were taken hostage, their experiences in captivity and the day they decided to go forth with their plan to escape.

The kidnapping

Their day started when a Haitian man invited them to visit an orphanage previously frequented by members of the Christian Aid Ministries organization. The hostages described it as a “good day” as they stayed several hours at the orphanages, which took about 1.5 hours to reach by car.

Approximately 5 to 10 minutes into their trip back to the Christian Aid Ministries base, the missionaries approached a roadblock and attempted to turn the van around when a pickup truck cut them off. That’s when they realized they were being kidnapped.

Gang members of the 400 Mawozo gang surrounded the van, blocking the front and back of it with vehicles. Showalter said despite some reports that the driver of the van carrying the missionaries was Haitian, he was Canadian and part of the missionary group.

The missionaries said they drove for a period of time until the kidnappers became frustrated with the missionary driver’s inability to keep up with them, so the kidnappers separated him from the group. He was eventually reunited with the rest of the group at the location they were held captive.

The kidnappers brought the 17 missionaries to a small house where they were held in an approximately 10-foot by 12-foot room.

Held in captivity

The first night was almost a sleepless night as the missionaries endured mosquito bites and extreme heat, Showalter said. Since there wasn’t sufficient space to sleep, some members of the group stood while others slept on the few mattresses that were provided.

After a few days in captivity, Showalter said the missionaries’ days developed a pattern and they were allowed to spend some time outside. Their days started with worshipping, prayer and singing. Most days, they spent hours speaking encouraging words and singing songs until about noon.

For breakfast, the kidnappers provided a Haitian breakfast spaghetti and each missionary was given a half hard-boiled egg. At around 1 p.m., the missionaries held a special prayer meeting, which entailed asking for God’s guidance and to be released.

In the evening, the missionaries were given rice and beans with fish sauce. On Thanksgiving, they had a Haitian stew. One of the kidnappers told Showalter that it was a particularly difficult day and that he wrote a letter to his family because he wasn’t sure if he would ever see them again.

Many times, the missionaries were still hungry, so they took advantage of fresh coconuts. The kidnappers provided large amounts of baby food for the children. The guards enjoyed talking to the children, Showalter said.

During their time in captivity, they were relocated several times.

While there was access to clean drinking water, getting enough for the group was a constant challenge. The water used to bathe was extremely contaminated, causing some of the missionaries to develop sores on their bodies where mosquito bites were present.

As a possible remedy, the group would boil water with ashes to soak their feet.

The group said the kidnappers often “spent hours” wiring fans to electricity to cool the group, but the fans only ran for a couple of hours on most nights.

The 17 missionaries were not the only hostages being held by the gang. Other groups were held in different rooms. The Christian Aid Ministries group did what they could to extend kindness by sharing food and water when possible.

The group developed an around-the-clock prayer schedule, with each taking turns in 30-minute intervals to pray.

The release and the escape

Three missionaries were released from captivity on Dec. 6 and two were released on Nov. 21.

Showalter said it took a while for the other 12 hostages to agree to escape.

“The hostages were sensing God, nudging them to an attempt and escape. Over the time of their captivity, God gave various hostages a desire to attempt an escape,” Showalter said.

“Twice when they plan to escape, God gave clear signs that this was not the right time,” Showalter said.

After discussing their plans, the group felt they should escape on the night of Wednesday, Dec. 15. During the night, they packed water in their clothes and stacked their mattresses in the corner as they prepared to leave.

They managed to open the door that was blocked and left the room in a single file. Showalter said they saw a mountain they recognized in the distance prior to their escape and used that as a guide. The moon provided them with some light on their journey.

The baby who was among the kidnapped was wrapped in blankets for protection.

The group told Showalter that they traveled for approximately 10 miles on foot, navigating difficult wooded terrain with briars and thorns.

During the entire escape, they were in gang territory, Showalter said. After hours of walking, the day turned to dawn and they found someone who helped them make a phone call.

Later that day, they flew on a Coast Guard flight to Florida where they were reunited with other hostages.

“They were finally free. Finally free. Thanks be to god," said an emotional Showalter during Monday's update.

Screen Shot 2021-12-20 at 11.37.32 AM.png
One of the hostages reunited with his family.

RELATED: All missionaries from Ohio-based group held hostage in Haiti released from captivity

Download the News 5 Cleveland app now for more stories from us, plus alerts on major news, the latest weather forecast, traffic information and much more. Download now on your Apple device here, and your Android device here.

You can also catch News 5 Cleveland on Roku, Apple TV, Amazon Fire TV, YouTube TV, DIRECTV NOW, Hulu Live and more. We're also on Amazon Alexa devices. Learn more about our streaming options here.