U.S. officials are working with Haitian authorities to try to secure the release of 17 missionaries with Holmes County ties who were abducted over the weekend by a violent gang.
Police say the 12 adults and five children, who work through Holmes County-based Christian Aid Ministries, were kidnapped Saturday by the 400 Mawozo gang in the community of Ganthier, which lies within the gang's territory in the Croix-des-Bouquets area east of the capital of Port-au-Prince.
Christian Aid Ministries released a statement Sunday, saying the organization has turned the situation over to God.
"Join us in praying for those who are held hostage, the kidnappers and the families, friends and churches of those affected. Pray for those who are seeking God's direction and making decisions regarding this matter," the statement read.
The group abducted includes five men, seven women and five children. One of them is a Canadian citizen, the rest are U.S. citizens. One of the children is 2 years old, police have said.
The organization, whose membership includes Amish, Mennonite and Anabaptist denominations, has worked in Haiti for decades as part of its global mission "to minister to physical and spiritual needs." CAM sent missionaries and aid to 133 countries in 2020, according to its website.
The organization resumed mission work in Haiti in 2020 after a nine-month hiatus due to gang violence and political unrest.
The Haitian gang believed to be responsible for the abduction was also blamed for kidnapping five priests and two nuns earlier this year.
Authoritites have said 400 Mawozo roughly translates to 400 "inexperienced men" and that the gang has been responsible for carjackings, extortion and other kidnappings.
This abduction is part of a growing number of kidnappings in Haiti, as turmoil in the Western Hemisphere's poorest country worsens following the assassination of President Jovenel Moïse and deadly natural disasters.
A United Nations Integrated Office in Haiti known as BINUH reported 328 kidnapping victims in the first eight months of 2021. The same group reported 234 kidnappings for all of 2020.
A deacon was killed in front of a church in Port-au-Prince last month and his wife kidnapped. Authorities have said gangs have demanded ransoms ranging from a couple hundred dollars to more than $1 million, and sometimes killing those abducted.
As authorities sought the release of CAM's group, Haitian unions and other organizations launched a strike Monday in protest of the country's worsening security.
Those joining the strike include public transportation drivers. Businesses and schools also closed to join the strike.
The U.S. State Department said Sunday it was in regular contact with senior Haitian authorities and would continue to work with them and interagency partners.
“The welfare and safety of U.S. citizens abroad is one of the highest priorities of the Department of State,” the agency said in a statement.
CAM did not respond to a request for comment.