PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti – There is not one orphan among the 33 children that a U.S. Baptist group tried to take from Haiti in a do-it-yourself rescue mission following a devastating earthquake, The Associated Press has determined.
In a visit to the rubble-riddled Citron slum where 13 of the children lived, parents who gave their children away confirmed that each one of the youngsters had living relatives.
Their testimony echoed that of parents in the mountain town of Callabas, outside the capital of Port-au-Prince, who told the AP on Feb. 3 that desperation and blind faith led them to hand over 20 children to the religious Americans who promised them a better life.
But now they are concerned that they may never see their children again.
One mother in Citron who gave up all four of her children, including a 3-month-old infant, drifts in and out of a trance-like state during a reporter’s visit or erupts into fits of hysteria.
She and other parents said they relinquished their children to the U.S. missionaries because they were promised they would be kept safe across the border in a newly established orphanage in the Dominican Republic.
The relatives’ stories contradict statements from the missionaries’ still-jailed leader, Laura Silsby, who said all of the children were either orphans or relinquished to the Americans by distant relatives.
”She should have told the truth,” said Jean Alex Viellard, a 25-year-old law student from Citron, where nearly all of the 13 children in question come from two families.
Even so, Viellard expressed admiration for the missionaries, bringing them cookies, candies and oranges during their nearly three weeks of detention. Eight of the 10 were released Wednesday on their own recognizance and flew home to the United States.
Silsby, 47, and her young assistant, Charisa Coulter, 24, remain jailed as the investigating judge interviews officials at the orphanages the two visited before the devastating Jan. 12 quake. They are scheduled to appear in court again Tuesday.
As they left the jail and boarded a U.S. Embassy van, the freed Baptists waved and thanked Viellard, who later called them ”great people who were doing good for Haiti.”
The Americans, most from an Idaho church group, were charged with child kidnapping for trying to remove the children without the proper documents in the post-quake chaos.