SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico (AP) — A group of 17 U.S. missionaries including children were kidnapped in Haiti on Saturday, according to a voice message sent to various religious missions by an organization with direct knowledge of the incident.
The missionaries were on their way home from building an orphanage, according to a message from Ohio-based Christian Aid Ministries.
“This is a special prayer alert,” the one-minute message said. “Pray that the gang members would come to repentance.”
The message states that the mission's field director is working with the U.S. Embassy, and that the field director's family and one other unidentified man stayed at the ministry's base while everyone else visiting the orphanage was abducted.
No other details were immediately available.
A U.S. government spokesperson said they were aware of the reports on the kidnapping.
“The welfare and safety of U.S. citizens abroad is one of the highest priorities of the Department of State,” the spokesperson said, declining further comment.
Haiti is once again struggling with a spike in gang-related kidnappings that had diminished after President Jovenel Moïse was fatally shot at his private residence on July 7, and following a 7.2-magnitude earthquake that struck southwest Haiti in August and killed more than 2,200 people.
Gangs have demanded ransoms ranging from thousands of dollars to more than $1 million, according to authorities.
Last month, a deacon was killed in front of a church in the capital of Port-au-Prince and his wife kidnapped, one of dozens of people who have been abducted in recent months.
At least 328 kidnapping victims were reported to Haiti’s National Police in the first eight months of 2021, compared with a total of 234 for all of 2020, according to a report issued last month the United Nations Integrated Office in Haiti known as BINUH.
AP reporter Evens Sanon in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, contributed to this report.
Dánica Coto, The Associated Press