Anonymous Donor Paid Ransom That Freed 3 Missionaries Kidnapped in Haiti, Group Says

Ohio-based Christian Aid Ministries (CAM) said three of the missionaries kidnapped in Haiti were released last month after an anonymous donor paid a ransom to the Haitian gang that kidnapped them.

The 400 Mawozo gang initially kidnapped 17 missionaries in October before releasing two of them in November due to medical reasons. The gang then demanded $1 million each for the release of the 15 remaining hostages. An anonymous donor paid an undisclosed amount to the gang as part of an agreement to release the remaining captives.

However, the gang only released three missionaries on December 5. CAM said that an internal conflict within the gang is why all of the hostages weren't released per the agreement.

It wasn't until December 16 that the remaining 12 were released. According to a column in New York's Yonkers Times, an unnamed source said the gang left the door unattended, allowing the captive missionaries to leave as part of the ransom deal.

CAM said members of the organizations do not know who the anonymous donor is or how much was paid to have the missionaries released. All they know is the donor is not affiliated with CAM.

CAM Executive Committee member Philip Mast said during the duration of the kidnapping they've had a "no ransom policy." However, the group accepted an offer made by the donor to "take the negotiations and deal with the situation…and it was turned over to another party to deal with it," he said.

Anonymous Donor Paid Haiti Ransom
On Wednesday, workers with the Ohio-based Christian Aid Ministries organization confirmed that an unidentified person paid ransom to a Haitian gang, resulting in the release of three of their kidnapped colleagues as part of an agreement that was supposed to have freed all 15 members of the captive group in early December. Above, a banner for the freed hostages is displayed at Christian Aid Ministries in Berlin, Ohio, on Monday, December 20, 2021. Tom E. Puskar/AP Photo

The accounts from former hostages and other CAM staffers, in recent recorded talks to church groups and others, are the first public acknowledgement from the organization that ransom was paid at any point following the October 16 kidnapping of 16 Americans and one Canadian affiliated with CAM.

CAM officials had acknowledged at a news conference December 20 that an unaffiliated party had offered to provide ransom money, but at the time they refused to say a payment had been paid.

In subsequent remarks, officials said the group had opposed paying cash ransom on principle, though it did make an offer of food boxes that the captors rejected. Eventually, CAM accepted a third-party offer to negotiate with the gang.

"Yes, there was ransom paid, but I don't think (the gang members) had the intention of releasing the prisoners," said Mast.

His and others' accounts, which the Associated Press gained access to this week, are archived at PlainNews.org, an online news source for conservative Anabaptists such as Mennonites, Amish and Brethren, who comprise the core of CAM workers and supporters.

One of the ex-hostages, Austin Smucker, said in a recorded talk that a gang member "promised that we were all going to be going home in the next few days" after the December 5 release of three hostages, but that did not happen.

Barry Grant, CAM's field director in Titanyen, Haiti, said the captors "reneged" on the deal.

Smucker and Grant both said they learned gang members refused to release all the hostages to try to force the Haitian government to free their imprisoned leader.

The person, whom the paper described as someone with "direct and detailed knowledge" of the case, said if the gang hadn't allowed them to leave, someone would have reported the escapees before they reached safety.

However, ex-hostages have continued to say, in detailed and consistent accounts, that they escaped during a narrow window of opportunity under fear of being recaptured or shot. They said recent rains had led the guards to congregate on the more sheltered side of the house, away from where the hostages nudged open a barricaded door and sneaked out for an overnight trek for miles through mud, thorns and mountainous terrain.

They also spoke of what they characterized as a divine deliverance, saying that a guard miraculously was blinded to evidence of their tampering with the door despite looking directly at it, and that neither villagers nor dogs reacted as they moved through the gang-controlled territory.

A CAM spokesman declined further comment. Haitian police have declined to comment on the kidnappings, and the gang's leaders have not given interviews.

The U.S. State Department declined to comment beyond thanking "our Haitian and international partners as well as the U.S. interagency for their assistance in facilitating their safe release."

The Associated Press contributed to this report.