PORT-AU-PRINCE – The remaining members of a U.S. missionary group who were kidnapped two months ago in Haiti have been freed, Haitian police and the church group said Thursday.
The spokesman for Haiti’s National Police, Gary Desrosiers, confirmed to The Associated Press that the hostages had been released, but did not immediately provide additional details.
“We glorify God for answered prayer — the remaining 12 hostages are FREE!” Christian Aid Ministries said in a statement. “All 17 of our loved ones are now safe.”
A convoy of at least a dozen vehicles, including U.S. Embassy SUVs and Haitian National Police, brought the missionaries to the Port-au-Prince airport late Thursday afternoon from the missionary group’s offices in Titanyen, north of the capital.
Earlier, people at the Christian Aid Ministries campus could be seen hugging each other and smiling.
News of their release spread quickly in and around Berlin, Ohio, where CAM is headquartered.
“It’s an answer to prayer,” said Ruth Miller, who was working at the front desk of the town's Amish & Mennonite Heritage Center.
Berlin is in Holmes County, Ohio’s Amish heartland, and many Amish and Mennonites volunteer in CAM ministries and donate to it.
Wes Kaufman, who attends a church where some CAM leaders also worship, said many congregations had heeded the mission group's recent request to devote three days to fasting and praying over the situation.
“It’s amazing how God works,” Kaufman said as dined with family in nearby Walnut Creek at Der Dutchman, a restaurant featuring traditional Amish and Mennonite fare.
In Washington, White House Principal Deputy Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre praised the law enforcement work and Haitian officials who helped get the hostages freed. "We welcomed reports that they are free and getting the care that they need after their ordeal,” she said.
The missionaries were kidnapped by the 400 Mawozo gang on Oct. 16. There were five children in the group of 16 U.S. citizens and one Canadian, including an 8-month-old. Their Haitian driver also was abducted, according to a local human rights organization.
The gang's leader had threatened to kill the hostages unless his demands were met. Authorities have said 400 Mawozo was demanding $1 million per person, although it wasn’t clear if that included the children.
It remained unclear whether any ransom was paid or what efforts led to the hostages’ freedom.
Carleton Horst, a member of Hart Dunkard Brethren Church in Hart, Michigan, whose members were among the hostages, said church members received a text message Thursday morning from “someone connected to the situation” that all of the hostages had been released.
A mother and her five children, two of them adults, who belong to the church were among the hostages. Horst, who is friends with the family, said the church is rejoicing and he’s “elated that that portion of things is finally over, just praise the Lord for that.”
“We’re feeling great,” said the Rev. Ron Marks, a minister at the church.
“From what I gathered, they were treated relatively well,” Marks said later in a news conference held on Zoom.
Two of the hostages were released in November, and three more earlier this month. They were not identified, but members of the Hart congregation told local media in Michigan that two were from Hart.
In addition to Michigan, the hostages are from Wisconsin, Ohio, Tennessee, Pennsylvania, Oregon and Ontario, Canada, according to the missionary group.
“Today is the day we have been hoping for, praying for and working so hard to achieve,” said Congressman Bill Huizenga, whose western Michigan congressional district includes Hart.
“I want to thank members of the hostage negotiation team for their diligence in securing the safe release of all the hostages. This is a great day for families in Michigan and across the nation who have been worried about the safety of their loved ones,” Huizenga said.
Christian Aid Ministries is mainly staffed and supported by conservative Anabaptists — members of various Amish, Mennonite and related churches characterized by such things as plain dress, a belief in non-resistance to violence and separation from the dominant society.
The organization’s roots date to the 1980s, when it began working in then-communist Romania. It has since expanded worldwide but has been particularly active in Haiti.
CAM's work ranges from starting churches and providing food, school supplies and other materials to those in need, to disaster relief and putting up billboards with evangelistic messages.
Smith reported from Berlin, Ohio. AP writer Anna Nichols in Lansing, Michigan, and Colleen Long in Washington contributed to this report.
This story has been corrected to reflect that a woman and five children who belong to the church were hostages, not four children.