Six Haitian orphans boarded an airplane to the United States on Wednesday, four days after Haitian police seized them out of fear they were being kidnapped.
"They were unbelievably excited to be going home," said Maria O'Donovan, field director of the orphanage in northern Haiti. She said the children were singing songs on the way to the airport.
"I was just so relieved to see the plane take off. I'm so excited for their parents."
The new parents can take the children home on Thursday, according to Jan Bonnema, the Minnesota-based founder of the Children of The Promise orphanage.
"You can't take our children!"
Sara Vanzee and her husband, Tim, waiting for their 13-month-old son, Albert, to arrive, said they understand the suspicions in Haiti given recent cases, but described their ordeal as stressful.
"Our hope is that they're OK with it, that they can see that we absolutely love these children and that we want to provide for them," said Vanzee, who is from the U.S. Midwest.
On Saturday, a group of 20 men blocked four women accompanying the orphans to the airport, shouting, "You can't take our children!"
Police briefly detained the women, and the orphans, ages one to five, spent three nights sleeping on the ground in a tent city. A U.S. Embassy official, who was carrying the documents needed to take the children through immigration, was running late.
Fears of child trafficking have made it harder than ever to adopt impoverished Haitian children.
Haiti's government immediately halted new adoptions in the chaos that followed the Jan. 12 earthquake, allowing only those already approved to move forward.
A better life
The concerns were fuelled by the arrest last month of 10 U.S. Baptist missionaries trying to take a busload of 33 children to the Dominican Republic without proper documentation. It turned out none of the children were orphans. Americans, Laura Silsby and Charisa Coulter, were arrested and remain in jail in Port-au-Prince.
Bernard Saint-Vil, the judge hearing their case, said Wednesday that he expects to decide their fate this week. He is waiting to hear from a judge in northern Haiti about a visit to orphanages the women made last year. He has asked judicial police to investigate whether Pastor Jean Sainvil, who helped recruit some of the children, indeed has orphanages in Haiti as he has claimed.
"I won't have a decision today or tomorrow," Saint-Vil said. "Probably Friday."
Thousands of desperate Haitian parents, unable to care for their own children, have eagerly given the youngsters away in hopes of giving them a better life. At the same time, they are terrified they will be tricked by predators, who will enslave or sexually abuse the children.
That adoption chill after the weeks after the earthquake hardened into a freeze after Saturday's incident. A U.S. State Department official, speaking on condition of anonymity because of the matter's sensitivity, said the latest drama held up the departure of 50 orphans approved for U.S. adoption.
It took the U.S. ambassador and Haiti's prime minister to iron out on Tuesday what turned out to be an ugly misunderstanding, and the children were handed over to the Embassy.
"They just kept singing and playing," O'Donovan said. "They were so happy."