Family members of the 17 missionaries kidnapped by the 400 Mawozo gang in Haiti preached forgiveness for their kidnappers days after Wilson Joseph, the gang’s leader, threatened to “put a bullet in the heads” of their loved ones if his $17 million ransom demand for their release isn’t met.
The 400 Mawozo gang kidnapped the missionaries, which include 16 Americans, one Canadian and five children on Oct. 16, while they were working with Christian Aid Ministries. The gang has demanded $1 million each for their safe return.
Despite the threat of execution, Christian Aid Ministries said in a statement on Saturday that the “families are united in their desire to follow Jesus’ teaching of forgiveness.”
“As a group of Christians, our King [Jesus] said that He is not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance,” an unidentified family member shared. “That is our desire for the men who are part of the gang.”
While negotiations for the missionaries' release continue between the gang and officials in the troubled Caribbean nation and the U.S., a video of Joseph, which began circulating on social media last Thursday, showed the crime boss wasn't pleased with the pace of negotiations.
“I swear by thunder that if I don’t get what I’m asking for, I will put a bullet in the heads of these Americans,” Joseph threatened, according to a translation cited by Bloomberg Quicktake.
The gang leader further threatened Haiti’s Prime Minister Ariel Henry, as well as the chief of Haiti’s National Police, Léon Charles. Bloomberg noted that Joseph’s speech was made in front of open coffins that apparently held several members of his gang who were recently killed.
“You guys make me cry. I cry water. But I’m going to make you guys cry blood,” he said.
Henry’s office announced on Thursday that Charles resigned and has been replaced by another top police official, Frantz Elbe, The Wall Street Journal reported.
When asked about the missionaries during a press briefing last Thursday, Karine Jean-Pierre cited recent comments made by U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken on the matter.
“We have in the administration been relentlessly focused on this, including sending a team to Haiti from the State Department; working very closely with the FBI, which is the lead in these kinds of matters; in constant communication with the Haitian National Police, the church that the missionaries belong to, as well as the Haitian government. And we will do everything that we can to help resolve the situation,” Blinken said.
Since the kidnapping of the missionaries, Haitians have taken to the streets demanding their release. Schools and most businesses were closed for several days in Port-au-Prince last week, according to The Haitian Times, following a call for a general strike to protest kidnappings and widespread insecurity, which followed the assassination of the country’s late President Jovenel Moïse in July.
In his comments on Haitian insecurity, Blinken said the U.S. is working with local officials to improve the situation on the ground.
“We have been working closely with the Haitian National Police to try to build their capacity, as well as help put in place programs that can effectively deal with the gangs. But it’s a very challenging and long-term process. We’re focused on it, but is it absolutely essential that this security dynamic change if Haiti is going to make real progress,” he said.