As many as 17 American Christian missionaries and their family members were kidnapped on Saturday by gang members in Haiti’s capital of Port-au-Prince
The missionaries were abducted from a bus headed to the airport to drop off some members of the group before continuing to another destination in Haiti, a report by the New York Times stated, citing security officials from the crisis-engulfed Caribbean nation.
The missionaries were on their way home from building an orphanage, according to a message from Ohio-based Christian Aid Ministries.
The group, which includes children, were kidnapped outside the Haitian capital by an armed gang which for months has been engaged in theft and kidnappings.
“This is a special prayer alert,” the one-minute message said. “Pray that the gang members would come to repentance.”
The message states that the mission’s field director is working with the U.S. Embassy, and that the field director’s family and one other unidentified man stayed at the ministry’s base while everyone else visiting the orphanage was abducted.
A U.S. government spokesperson said they were aware of the reports on the kidnapping.
“The welfare and safety of U.S. citizens abroad is one of the highest priorities of the Department of State,” the spokesperson said, declining further comment.
Haiti is once again struggling with a spike in gang-related kidnappings that had diminished after President Jovenel Moïse was fatally shot at his private residence on July 7, and following a 7.2-magnitude earthquake that struck southwest Haiti in August and killed more than 2,200 people.
Last month, a deacon was killed in front of a church in the capital of Port-au-Prince and his wife kidnapped, one of dozens of people who have been abducted in recent months.
At least 328 kidnapping victims were reported to Haiti’s National Police in the first eight months of 2021, compared with a total of 234 for all of 2020, according to a report issued last month the United Nations Integrated Office in Haiti known as BINUH.
Gangs have demanded ransoms ranging from thousands of dollars to more than $1 million, according to authorities.