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 the rubble-riddled Citron slum where 13 of the children lived, parents who gave their children away confirmed Saturday that each one of the youngsters had living parents.
Their testimony echoed that of parents in the mountain town of Callabas, outside 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.
Now the Citron parents worry they may never see their children again.
One Citron mother who gave up all four of her children, including a 3-month-old, is locked in a trance-like state but sometimes erupts into fits of hysteria.
Her husband and other parents said they relinquished their children to the U.S. missionaries because they were promised safekeeping across the border in a newly established orphanage in the Dominican Republic.
Their stories contradict the missionaries’ still-jailed leader, Laura Silsby, who told the AP the day after her arrest that the children were either orphans or came from distant relatives.
“She should have told the truth,” said Jean Alex Viellard, a 25-year-old law student from Citron who otherwise expressed admiration for the missionaries.
He took them cookies, candies and oranges during their nearly three weeks of detention before eight of the 10 were released Wednesday on their own recognizance and flew home to the United States.
Silsby, 40, and her assistant, Charisa Coulter, 24, remain jailed as the investigating judge interviews officials at the orphanages the two visited prior to the devastating Jan. 12 quake.
The judge flew to the neighboring Dominican Republic on Saturday. The two are to appear in court again Tuesday.
The Americans, most from an Idaho church group, were charged with child kidnapping for trying to remove the children without the proper documents to the Dominican Republic in the post-quake chaos.
Silsby had been working since last summer to create an orphanage. After the quake, she hastily organized a self-styled “rescue mission,” enlisting missionaries from Idaho, Texas and Kansas.