- (Photo: AP Images / Esteban Felix)
A U.S. Christian who was arrested for trying to take dozens of children out of Haiti stood trial Thursday.
Laura Silsby testified that she only wanted to help the Haitian children.
"One week after the earthquake I left my family and my home to help children that had been orphaned in the earthquake," she said on the first day of her trial, according to The Associated Press. "We came here with a heart to help."
In January after a massive earthquake devastated Port-au-Prince, the capital of Haiti, Silsby led a team of Baptists – mainly from Idaho – to the Caribbean country to transport children who lost their parents to an orphanage they were setting up in the Dominican Republic. They were arrested on Jan. 29 when they attempted to take 33 children to the neighboring country without proper documents, and charged with kidnapping a minor and criminal association.
Complications arose when the children were all found to have at least one living parent.
The two charges against the team of 10 were dropped last month but Silsby still faced a charge of arranging irregular travel.
Silsby, 40, explained that she thought all the children they were transporting were orphaned as a result of the earthquake. She also said was turned away from closed government ministries as she tried to get the required documents, and was told there was nobody there to help her.
Prosecutor Sonel Jean-Francois said Thursday that Silsby knowingly broke the law and should spend six months in prison – the minimum sentence if convicted.
"If the United States had an earthquake, that would not give you the right to take children," Jean-Francois contended, as reported by AP.
Since her arrest, Silsby has remained detained in Haiti. The other nine Christians were allowed to return to their homes in the U.S. in February and March.
Upon her return home, Charisa Coulter – who was the ninth person to be released – said that they were just 10 Christians who "obeyed God's calling" and who went to "help the nation of Haiti and its children."
Silsby's trial is expected to continue next week.
The Jan. 12 earthquake left some 250,000 people dead and over a million homeless. UNICEF estimates that more than 20,000 children lost their parents in the quake and its aftermath. Prior to the disaster, there were already more than 300,000 orphans in Haiti.