All Haitian `orphans` with Baptists had parents: Report

Last Updated: Sunday, February 21, 2010 - 08:57

Port-au-Prince: There is not one orphan among the 33 children that a US Baptist group tried to take from Haiti in a do-it-yourself rescue mission following a devastating earthquake, a report has claimed.
In the rubble-riddled Citron slum where 13 of the children lived, parents who gave their children away confirmed on Saturday that each one of the youngsters had living parents.

Their testimony echoed that of parents in the mountain town of Callabas, outside of Port-au-Prince, who told a news agency on February 03 that desperation and blind faith led them to hand over 20 children to the religious Americans who promised them a better life.

Now the Citron parents worry they may never see their children again.

One Citron mother who gave up all four of her children, including a three-month-old, is locked in a trance-like state but sometimes erupts into fits of hysteria.

Her husband and other parents said they relinquished their children to the US missionaries because they were promised safekeeping across the border in a newly established orphanage in the Dominican Republic.

Their stories contradict the missionaries` still-jailed leader, Laura Silsby, who told the agency 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 on Wednesday on their own recognisance and flew home 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 January 12 quake.

The judge flew to the neighbouring Dominican Republic on Saturday. The two are to appear in court again on 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 post-quake chaos.

Silsby had been working since last summer to create an orphanage. After the quake, she hastily organised a self-styled "rescue mission”, enlisting missionaries from Idaho, Texas and Kansas.

She was led to Citron by Pastor Jean Sainvil, an Atlanta, Georgia-based Haitian minister who recruited the 13 children in the slum. Sainvil had been a frequent visitor to the neighbourhood of unpaved streets and simple cement 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, a 39-year-old stone mason.

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 kids were sick.

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.

Bureau Report

First Published: Sunday, February 21, 2010 - 08:57
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