The Christian missionaries who were abducted in Haiti walked to freedom through rough, moonlit terrain last week, following the “sheer guidance of the stars”, the US-based group that sent them to the Carribean nation has said.
“After a number of hours of walking, day began to dawn, and they eventually found someone who helped them make a phone call for help. They were finally free,” Weston Showalter, a spokesman for Christian Aid Ministries, said during a news conference on Monday.
A group of 16 American missionaries and one Canadian was abducted in October by a powerful criminal gang known as 400 Mawozo after they visited an orphanage east of the capital, Port-au-Prince, Haitian authorities said.
The names of the former hostages have not been made public out of concern for their safety.
On Monday, Showalter said the missionaries faced “difficult and intense” circumstances in captivity, including sweltering heat, mosquito bites and limited access to food.
“Although they were threatened on multiple occasions – and even wondered if death was near in some cases – none of the hostages were physically hurt or abused by the kidnappers,” Showalter said. “And we are so grateful to God for that.”
The leader of the 400 Mawozo gang had threatened to kill the hostages in October.
A 10-month-old infant, a three-year-old child, a 14-year-old girl and a 15-year-old boy were in the group that made its risky escape last week, Showalter said. The original 17 abductees included five children.
One of the most impoverished countries in the world, Haiti has suffered from periodic natural disasters, surging gang violence and a longstanding political crisis made worse by the assassination of President Jovenel Moise in July.
The country has struggled to rebuild in the aftermath of a devastating earthquake in August that killed more than 2,200 people.
It is also experiencing fuel shortages exacerbated by a month-long blockade by gangs earlier this year on fuel terminals in Port-au-Prince and surrounding areas. Last week, a fuel tanker truck exploded in Haiti’s northern city of Cap-Haitien, killing at least 75 people.
This year, Haiti also reported an uptick in gang-related kidnappings as the security situation has deteriorated.
On Monday, David Troyer, general director of Christian Aid Ministries, said most members of the abducted group were in Haiti as part of a long-term mission to the country that engages in humanitarian and religious work.
“We go to dangerous places in many parts of the world,” Troyer said. “That’s what Christian Aid Ministries has been doing for decades. If we’d only go where it’s safe, we’d stay at home in our own communities.”
He added that last week’s escape was “miraculous” and the freed hostages are “doing reasonably well” after their return to the US.