ROCHESTER, N.Y. (WROC) — American officials are currently working to rescue 17 members of a missionary group based in the U.S. that were abducted in Haiti by a violent gang over the weekend.
Twelve adults and five children from the U.S. and Canada were captured while on a trip to visit an orphanage near Port-au-Prince.
Sheriff Todd Baxter with the Monroe County Sheriff’s Office has been going on missionaries to Haiti with his church for years. He says he has built many close relationships over the years, but following the recent kidnappings, he’s concerned for this friends’ safety.
“They’re living in fear. They might not be held hostage right now, but they’re living as a hostage, maybe even their own house,” Baxter said.
Baxter said he knows a young girl in Haiti who is not leaving her house.
“At nighttime, they locked the doors and they’re hearing gunshots almost all night long, so it’s a very difficult,” Baxter said. “She described it as, ‘she’s mentally fatigued, she’s mentally fatigued of being afraid.’”
The country of roughly 11.4 million people has been stricken with violence over the past years, following destructive natural disasters and the assassination of the Haitian president over the summer.
“Five, six years ago, there was no sitting president because no one wanted the job. There’s earthquakes, 1000s of people lost their life just a few months ago, and a small, small country like that, that causes chaos and something’s gonna fill that void. And what you see is more chaos, gangs, filling that void,” Baxter said.
That chaos is breaking Baxter’s heart, as he waits to go back with his family as soon as he can.
“We can’t abandon these kids. We can’t abandon these people we’ve developed relationships with,” Baxter said.
Baxter said he is praying and hoping the U.S. government is intervening and helping those who have been captured in any way they can. But he also recognizes more violence will likely happen in the future and something needs to be done.
“What’s next? This chaos is not going to go away. So we’ve been working intensely with non-government organizations for years down there, the government of America has done some work down there, obviously stabilization plans years ago. So we really got to put a strategic plan around Haiti. It’s just too many good people,” he said.
In the meantime, Baxter is asking the Monroe County community to be praying for all those in Haiti who are worried for their safety.
“Pray for the government, pray for the leaders, pray for the people with a perseverance and please pray for the safety,” Baxter said. “But you know, there’s multiple Americans over there right now, there’s multiple people from Canada, there’s multiple people from other countries, we see people from multiple other countries when we’re there, because people care and they’re trying to help so keep them in your prayers too.”
Baxter also said if you can’t physically do anything to help those in Haiti, it’s still important to help the people around you locally.
“There’s a human being down the street from you somewhere that needs help. Someone’s always looking for help, and if you got a little more than someone else, take advantage of that and share that with someone else,” Baxter said.
16 American citizens and one Canadian were part of the group kidnapped over the weekend. Five of who are men, seven women and five children.
Haitian police say this abduction was carried out by the 400 Mawozo gang, which is a group with a long history of killings, kidnappings and extortion.
The gang is asking for $17 million dollars for their release, $1 million for each member that was captured.