PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti — Ten Baptists being held in Haiti continue to undergo interrogation by a judge in Port-au-Prince, although leaders of the Utah-Idaho Baptist State Convention told Baptist state editors Feb. 10 they may be freed by Feb. 11.
Conversations with leaders of the Idaho Baptist churches where the volunteers are members indicated a charter plane is on standby to carry them home Feb. 11 if progress in negotiations continue as well as in the past 24 hours.
According to various media reports, the leader of the group, Laura Silsby, and several others were questioned by Haitian Judge Bernard Saint-Vil on Feb. 8, while others were to be questioned Feb. 9.
The 10 American volunteers are charged with child kidnapping and criminal association for attempting to transport 33 Haitian children to an orphanage they were opening in neighboring Dominican Republic.
The Baptist group, who were arrested Jan. 29 at the border between Haiti and the DR, had traveled to Haiti in response to the severe devastation caused by the Jan. 12 earthquake.
Further proceedings likely will involve parents of five of the 33 children, Reuters reported.
The Associated Press reported Feb. 8 that Haiti’s prime minister, Max Bellerive, said his country may permit the Americans to be tried in a U.S. court, but no government actions otherwise have been reported to that effect.
USA Today reported that one of the group’s two new Haitian attorneys, Aviol Fleurant, predicted after the Feb. 8 hearing that the Baptist volunteers will be released. Fleurant claimed that the group had “a document” authorizing their care of the children.
“The Americans acted with heart” and “had no intention to violate the Haitian law,” Fleurant said.
The attorney initially retained for the Americans was dismissed in a dispute over payment, according to media reports. There were no reports of conflict among the Baptist volunteers in accounts posted by Reuters and The New York Times on Feb. 9, contrary to several earlier media reports.
“I am trusting God to reveal all truth and that we will be released and exonerated of charges,” Silsby told reporters after the Feb. 8 proceedings with Saint-Vil, the Haitian judge, “and we are just waiting for the Haitian process, the legal process, to complete.”
“Help us,” detainee Carla Thompson said to New York Times reporter Ian Urbina in a Feb. 8 news story.
The reporter noted that Thompson and at least one of the four other women on the Baptist volunteer team were being held “in a scorching jail cell about 8 feet by 5 feet” with “a dirty concrete floor.”
No other details about the women’s quarters were relayed in the article. Thompson’s feet were bandaged “from infected mosquito bites,” Urbina wrote in The Times.
The other detainee quoted in Urbina’s story, Corinna Lankford, said, “I have faith in God. But maybe the U.S. government could help a little more. No one is giving us any kind of information about what is going on.”
Urbina wrote that the detainees said guards and other prisoners were treating them well.
One of the women, Charisa Coulter, 24, a diabetic, has received insulin from an unidentified missionary after going without the medicine for a week.
“It has mostly been missionaries not the government that has been providing us with food and medicine,” Silsby told Urbina.
When not in court, the New York Times reporter wrote that the women prisoners were reading the Bible and also passing their time by “napping, praying and snacking on frosted flakes and Pringles provided to them by missionaries.”
The detainees are:
- Laura Silsby, 40, of Meridian, Idaho, group leader, executive director and founder of an organization named New Life Children’s Refuge and member of Central Valley Baptist Church in Meridian, Idaho.
- Charisa Coulter, 24, of Kuna, Idaho, vice president and co-founder of New Life Children’s Refuge and member of Central Valley Baptist Church.
- Corinna Lankford, member of Central Valley Baptist Church.
- Nicole Lankford, 17, Corinna Lankford’s daughter.
- Carla Thompson, 53, missions coordinator at the Central Valley Baptist Church.
- Paul Thompson, 43, pastor of Eastside Baptist Church in Twin Falls, Idaho.
- Silas Thompson, 19, of Twin Falls, Paul Thompson’s son.
- Steve McMullen, 56, of Eastside Baptist Church, Twin Falls.
- Drew Culberth, 34, of Topeka, Kan., a part-time youth pastor at Bethel Baptist Church.
- Jim Allen, 47, of Amarillo, Texas, of Paramount Baptist Church and cousin of Paul Thompson.
(EDITOR’S NOTE — Compiled by Baptist Press editor Art Toalston.)