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 after 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 youngster 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 Associated Press on Feb. 3 that desperation and blind faith led them to hand more than 20 children over to the Americans who promised them a better life. But now they are concerned that they may never see their children again.
Differing storiesOne 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 sudden 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 helped 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.
Pastor’s helpIn the Citron slum, Silsby enlisted Pastor Jean Sainvil, an Atlanta-Georgia-based Haitian minister who rounded up the 13 children there. He said that he met Silsby on Jan. 27 in Ouanaminthe on the Haiti-Dominican border and agreed to help her collect children for a 150-bed orphanage the Americans were setting up near the resort Cabarete in the neighboring Dominican Republic. Sainvil, who says his nondenominational Haiti Sharing Jesus Ministry has 25 churches in the country, said the two agreed to meet in Port-au-Prince on Feb. 13 for more children. The day after he met Silsby, Sainvil collected the 13 children from Citron. A day after that, the missionaries’ bus was halted at the Dominican border and they were arrested. Like those in Callabas, the parents in Citron said they believed the Americans could keep their children safe. They said they were promised they would be able to visit their kids in the orphanage and Silsby told them that only orphans would be adopted. Now they fear their children are gone forever.