Twelve missionaries based in the US who were abducted in Haiti have revealed how they managed to get away on their own after the gang that seized them in October demanded a ransom of $1m (£740,000) per hostage.
The missionaries from Christian Aid Ministries say they 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 of 13 were finally free last week (second week of December) from a total of 17 missionaries and their families that were abducted.
Five others people had already been released. They were abducted after they had visited an orphanage.
“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,” Showalter said.
Showalter 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.
Once morning reached they found a person with a phone who helped them call authorities.
The missionaries have flown back to Florida on a US Coast Guard flight, Christian Aid Ministries said. Most have now returned to their families.
At the time of their release, police spokesman Gary Desrosiers told AFP news agency there had been weeks of negotiations between the gang, known as 400 Mazowo, and authorities.
Two group members were freed in November, and another three in early December, and it is still unclear whether a ransom was paid.
Showalter denied initial reports that the group’s driver was a Haitian local. 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,” Showalter said, adding that the group maintained a 24-hour prayer vigil while in captivity.
Haiti has one of the highest rates of kidnapping in the world, as powerful gangs exploit the lawless situation to profit from ransom payments.
In 2021 alone, there have been nearly 800 kidnappings reported before the end of October.