A street in the Martissant neighborhood was controlled by armed gangs in Port-au-Prince, Haiti. File photo by Orlando Barria/EPA-EFE
Oct. 17 (UPI) -- Seventeen people, including 12 adults and five children associated with an Ohio-based Christian aid group, were abducted by gang members after they left an orphanage in Port-au-Prince, Haitian authorities said.
The group of 16 Americans and one Canadian was traveling Saturday in a bus to Titanyen, about 11 miles north of Port-au-Prince, after visiting an orphanage in the capital, Christian Aid Ministries confirmed to The New York Times. Originally, those kidnapped included three children.
"We are seeking God's direction for a resolution, and authorities are seeking ways to help," the ministry said in a statement.
An abducted adult also posted a call for help in a WhatsApp group while the kidnapping was occurring, The Washington Post reported.
"Please pray for us!! We are being held hostage, they kidnapped our driver. Pray pray pray. We don't know where they are taking us," the message said.
Christian Aid Ministries was founded in 1981 and the main purpose is to glorify God and help enlarge His kingdom," according to its website.
"This shows us that no matter who you are, or where you are in Haiti, you are never safe," said Pierre Espérance, director of Haiti's National Human Rights Defense Network, told The Washington Post.
The U.S. State Department spokesperson told CNN late Saturday it was aware of the reports.
"The welfare and safety of US citizens abroad is one of the highest priorities of the Department of State. We are aware of these reports and have nothing additional to offer at this time," the spokesperson said.
The missionaries were abducted by the 400 Mawozo, which has targeted religious groups, according to organizations that monitor kidnappings in Haiti. Kidnappers usually issue ransom demands.
Since January, at least 628 kidnappings have taken place, including 29 foreigners, according to data released earlier this month by the Center for Analysis and Research in Human Rights, a nonprofit based in Port-au-Prince.
Haitian Foreign Minister Claude Joseph had called on the United Nations Security Council to strengthen the UN special political mission in his country to help ensure security and protection for civilians.
"These are the legitimate expectations of the people who have suffered enough from gang violence, kidnapping and widespread crime," Joseph said in a news release Oct. 4.