Haitian soldiers
© Richard Pierrin/AFP/Getty Images
Haitian soldiers guard the public prosecutor's office in Port-au-Prince
Children were among up to 17 American Christian missionaries and their relatives kidnapped by a gang in Haiti on Saturday, the New York Times first reported.

The latest: Haitian police inspector Frantz Champagne identified the 400 Mawozo gang as the group responsible, in a statement to AP.
  • The group has "sown terror" in the suburbs of Port-au-Prince for months, engaging in kidnappings and armed combat with other gangs, the New York Times noted.
Details: The missionaries had just left an orphanage and were traveling by bus to the airport to "drop off some members" and were due to travel to another destination when the gang struck in Port-au-Prince, Haitian security officials said, per the NYT.
  • A voice recording from the Ohio-based Christian Aid Ministries, described as a "prayer alert," said that the "mission field director and the American embassy are working to see what can be done," The Washington Post reports.
  • A security official told AFP news agency that the "armed gang" that abducted the group of "between 15 and 17" Americans had for months "been engaged in theft and kidnappings."
What they're saying: A State Department spokesperson said in an emailed statement that they were aware of the reports.
  • The spokesperson added that the "welfare and safety of U.S. citizens abroad is one of the highest priorities" of the department.
  • Pierre Espérance, director of Haiti's National Human Rights Defense Network, told WashPost that Haitian officials had informed him on Saturday that "an unknown number of American missionaries had been kidnapped."
The big picture: Haiti has been gripped by violence since the assassination of President Jovenel Moïse last July — with police receiving at least 328 kidnapping reports in the first eight months of 2021, compared with 234 in total for 2020, a UN agency in Haiti found last month, AP notes.
  • A rights group in Port-au-Prince reported abductions surged from 73 in August to 117 in September, per WashPost, which notes the country has the "highest per capita kidnapping rate on Earth."
  • While it was not immediately clear why the Americans were taken, abductions have affected all social classes in Haiti in recent weeks — with kidnappers demanding anything from $100 to six figures in ransom, WashPost reports.