Parents of ‘orphans’ contradict missionaries
PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti - Although a US Baptist group said it was trying to rescue 33 “orphans’’ by taking them out of earthquake-ravaged Haiti, all the children have close family still alive.
A visit Saturday to the rubble-strewn Citron slum, where 13 of the children lived, led to their parents, all of whom said they turned their youngsters over to the missionary group voluntarily in hopes of getting them to safety, the Associated Press reported.
Similar explanations were given by parents in the mountain town of Callabas, outside Port-au-Prince, who said that desperation and blind faith led them to hand over 20 children to the Baptist group on Feb. 3.
Since the arrest of the missionaries at the border Jan. 30, the parents in Citron have been worrying they may never see their children again. One mother who gave up her four children, including a 3-month-old, is in a trancelike depression, occasionally erupting into fits of hysteria.
Her husband and other parents in Citron said they relinquished their children because they were promised safekeeping across the border to a newly established orphanage in the Dominican Republic.
Their stories contradict the missionaries’ still-jailed leader, Laura Silsby, who said the day after her arrest that the children were either orphans or came from distant relatives.
“She should have told the truth,’’ said Jean Alex Viellard, a 25-year-old law student from Citron who otherwise expressed admiration for the missionaries.
He took them cookies, candies, and oranges during their nearly three weeks of detention before eight of the 10 were released Wednesday on their own recognizance. They have returned to the United States.
Silsby, 40, and her assistant, Charisa Coulter, 24, remain jailed as the investigating judge interviews officials at the orphanages the two visited prior to the devastating Jan. 12 quake.
The judge flew to the neighboring Dominican Republic on Saturday. The two will appear in court again Tuesday.
As they left the jail and boarded a US Embassy van, the freed Baptists waved and thanked Viellard, who later called them “great people who were doing good for Haiti.’’
The Americans, most from an Idaho church group, were charged with child kidnapping for trying to remove the children without the proper documents to the Dominican Republic in the postquake chaos.
Silsby had been working since last summer to create an orphanage. After the quake, she hastily organized a self-styled “rescue mission,’’ enlisting missionaries from Idaho, Texas, and Kansas.
She was led to Citron by Pastor Jean Sainvil, an Atlanta-based Haitian minister who recruited the 13 children in the slum.
Sainvil had been a frequent visitor to the neighborhood of unpaved streets and simple concrete homes even before more than half of the houses collapsed in the quake.
“The pastor said that with all the bodies decomposing in the rubble, there were going to be epidemics, and the kids were going to get sick,’’ said Regilus Chesnel, 39, a stonemason.
Chesnel’s wife, 33-year-old Bertho Magonie, said her husband persuaded her to give away their children - ages 12, 7, 3, and 1 - and a 10-year-old nephew living with them because their house had collapsed and the children were sick.
“They were vomiting. They had fevers, diarrhea, and headaches,’’ she said, leaning against the wall of the two-room hovel the couple shares.
In a telephone interview from the United States on Saturday, Sainvil confirmed the Chesnels’ story. He said a collapsed building adjacent to where the children lived held six or seven corpses.