American Missionaries in Haiti Charged With Kidnapping

Ten Baptist missionaries are charged with taking Haitian children.

Feb. 4, 2010— -- Their bags were packed. They were ready to leave Haiti. But instead, tonight, all 10 of the American missionaries who said they were trying to rescue 33 Haitian children are back in jail, charged with criminal conspiracy and kidnapping. The missionaries were arrested at the border of Haiti and the Dominican Republic last Friday.

They arrived at the courthouse this afternoon, smiling, crammed into two police vehicles. In the back of one were their backpacks and personal effects.

A Mission Gone Wrong

Most of the Americans are members of an Idaho-based Baptist church group, New Life Children's Refuge. The group's leader, Laura Silsby, indicated that she thought they would be released today.

One by one, as the police escorted them in, the missionaries were unrepentant.

"We expect that God's will will be done and we will be released," said Silsby, "and we are looking to what God is going to do." Silsby has acknowledged that the group had not gotten permission to take the children but says they were just trying to help victims of the earthquake.

The courthouse grounds serve as a tent camp for people made homeless by the earthquake. But today, their plight was just part of the backdrop.

"These people are American," said one Haitian man. "The whole world just wants to know what will happen to the Americans."

Not Going Home

The missionaries were so sure they would leave Haiti that their lawyer in the Dominican Republic had already chartered them a plane to get them out. But now they are in jail. They are charged with criminal conspiracy and child kidnapping.

"I'm surprised because these people are innocent," said Jorge Puello, the lawyer for the missionaries.

It looks like they won't be going home any time soon.

Bail is possible but rarely granted here. A trial is likely to last three months, although a magistrate has the authority to free the Americans earlier. In the worst case scenario, the missionaries could face 15 years for each kidnapping count multiplied by 33 children. Each conspiracy count carries a maximum penalty of 9 years.

Tonight, the Americans were shuffled back into their jail cells with no comment and no idea if or when they will be free.

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