Survivors of a previous kidnapping by the notorious Haitian 400 Mawozo gang have revealed details of the life of a hostage, with the group currently demanding a $ 17 million ransom to free 16 captive Americans and one Canadian.
The group of missionaries affiliated with Christian Aid Ministries were kidnapped at a checkpoint in the capital of Port-au-Prince on Saturday, officials told ABC News, and the FBI, State Department and d other US agencies have sent a team to the country to secure their safe release. A senior Haitian police official involved in efforts to free the Americans told ABC News the kidnappers demanded a ransom of $ 1 million per person.
Ohio-based Christian Aid Ministries revealed more details of the hostages on Tuesday, saying the adults held captive were between 18 and 48 years old, while there were also five children, the youngest of whom was 8. month.
In Haiti, a predominantly Catholic country, 400 members of the Mawozo gang are known for their brutal tactics and targeting religious groups. GÃ©dÃ©on Jean, director of Haiti’s Center for Analysis and Research on Human Rights, told the Washington Post that the gang was responsible for most of the kidnappings.
Haiti has the highest per capita kidnapping rate in the world, and 400 Mawozo members are believed to be responsible for the kidnapping of ten French missionaries in April this year, who were released after 20 days. In interviews with ABC News, two survivors recounted their experiences and offered their prayers for the current hostages.
Father Jean Millien, who was part of the missionary group and is still based in Haiti, told ABC News he hoped the hostages would be released.
âThe message I have for them is not to be impatient,â he said. “I think one day they will all be free.”
And another survivor of the April kidnapping, Sister AgnÃ¨s Bordeau, 81, of the Sisters of Providence, who has since returned to France, shared with ABC News details of the hostage life. They were kidnapped after receiving repeated warnings from the French Embassy in Haiti about the dangers of operating in the country.
After their abduction by the armed men, Bordeau said the group had moved to three different locations; their captors able to evade authorities in a country roughly the same size as the state of Maryland.
âWe were sleeping on cardboard outside in the middle of the forest,â Bordeau told ABC News. âFive days outside without moving. Of course, if we had to go to the bathroom, we had to ask permission and we were followed by an armed guard. [When we were moved inside] we were scared for our lives because the room was very dirty and it was very hot. Only one person could stand or sit. “
In the forest, they experienced perhaps the most terrifying event of their ordeal – when they suspected that their captors were digging makeshift graves.
“At one point I could hear the noises of people digging and I asked a priest what it was and he told me very peacefully that the ang was preparing a poor man’s grave for us.” , she said. “They tied our hands, one of the gang members [ripped] a priest’s robe to make bands to completely blindfold us, but it didn’t last very long. “
Despite the heart-wrenching ordeal, in which they were only fed one meal a day, Bordeau said, the missionaries eventually entered into a dialogue with their captors, even though all their possessions – except their personal bibles, were stolen.
They survived, she says, thanks to their collective faith.
âWe supported each other, we took care of each other, we also paid attention to our own words,â she said. “We were never discouraged and we had very deep prayer times … And personally, I can say that I could really feel the presence of God in our midst.”
After 20 days in captivity, Bordeaux said they were brutally released in the middle of the night. It is not known whether a ransom was paid or not.
âWhen we were released, the big gang leader asked us to pray for them,â she said.
Secretary of State Antony Blinken has vowed that the United States will do everything possible to secure the release of the hostages.
“Gangs dominate many parts of Port-au-Prince and other parts of Haiti, the national police cannot even operate in many of these areas,” Blinken said, noting the practical difficulties of life on field.
ABC News’ Conor Finnegan and Marcus Moore contributed to this report