PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti – Ten Americans were detained by Haitian police on Saturday as they tried to bus 33 children across the border into the Dominican Republic, allegedly without proper documents.
The Baptist church members from Idaho called it a “Haitian Orphan Rescue Mission,” meant to save abandoned children from the chaos following Haiti’s earthquake. Their plan was to scoop up 100 kids and take them by bus to a rented hotel at a beach resort in the Dominican Republic, where they planned to establish an orphanage.
Whether they realized it or not, these Americans – the first known to be taken into custody since the Jan. 12 earthquake – put themselves in the middle of a firestorm in Haiti, where government leaders have suspended adoptions and alleged – without offering evidence – that aid workers have been stealing children for organ trafficking.
“In this chaos the government is in right now we were just trying to do the right thing,” the group’s leader, Laura Silsby, told reporters at the judicial police headquarters in the capital, where the Americans were being held pending a Monday hearing before a judge.
Silsby said they only had the best of intentions and paid no money for the children, whom she said they obtained from a well-known Haitian pastor named Jean Sanbil of the Sharing Jesus Ministries.
The U.S. Embassy in Haiti sent consular officials, who met with the detained Americans and gave them bug spray and MREs, according to Sean Lankford, of Meridian, Idaho, whose wife and 18-year-old daughter were being held.
“There are allegations of child trafficking, and that really couldn’t be farther from the truth,” Lankford said. The children “were going to get the medical attention they needed. They were going to get the clothes and the food and the love they need to be healthy and to start recovering from the tragedy that just happened.”
Silsby said they had documents from the Dominican government but did not seek any paperwork from Haitian authorities before taking 33 children from 2 months to 12 years old to the border, where Haitian police stopped them Friday evening. She said the only ones to be put up for adoption would be those without close family to care for them.
The 10 Americans include members of the Central Valley Baptist Church in Meridian and the East Side Baptist Church in Twin Falls, as well as people from Texas and Kansas.