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Missionaries kidnapped by Haitian gang have been released, police say

The remaining Canadian and U.S. members of a missionary group who were kidnapped two months ago in Haiti have been freed, Haitian police and the group said Thursday.

16 Americans, 1 Canadian were kidnapped by 400 Mawozo gang on Oct. 16.

Unidentified people board a vehicle departing to the airport from the Christian Aid Ministries headquarters in Titanyen, north of Port-au-Prince, Haiti, on Thursday. (Odelyn Joseph/The Associated Press)

The remaining Canadian and U.S. members of a missionary group who were kidnapped two months ago in Haiti have been freed, Haitian police and the group said Thursday.

The spokesperson for Haiti's National Police, Gary Desrosiers, confirmed to The Associated Press that the hostages had been released, but did not immediately provide additional details.

"We glorify God for answered prayer — the remaining 12 hostages are FREE!" Christian Aid Ministries (CAM) said in a statement. "Join us in praising God that all 17 of our loved ones are now safe."

The Ohio group said it hopes to provide more information later. 

Late Thursday afternoon, a convoy of at least a dozen vehicles, including U.S. Embassy SUVs and Haitian National Police, brought the missionaries to the Port-au-Prince airport from the missionary group's offices in Titanyen, north of Port-au-Prince. 

A man embraces a missionary at the Christian Aid Ministries headquarters in Titanyen, north of Port-au-Prince, Haiti, on Thursday. (Odelyn Joseph/The Associated Press)

A source, who spoke to CBC News on condition they not be named because they were not authorized to speak publicly, said the group had departed Haiti as of early Thursday evening. 

Earlier, people at the Christian Aid Ministries campus could be seen hugging each other and smiling.

'It's an answer to prayer'

News of their release spread quickly in and around Berlin, Ohio, where Christian Aid Ministries is headquartered.

"It's an answer to prayer," said Ruth Miller, who was working at the front desk of the town's Amish & Mennonite Heritage Center.

Berlin is in Holmes County, Ohio's Amish heartland, and many Amish and Mennonites volunteer with CAM and donate to it.

Wes Kaufman, who attends a church where some CAM leaders also worship, said many congregations had heeded the mission group's recent request to devote three days to fasting and praying over the situation.

"It's amazing how God works," Kaufman said, as dined with family in nearby Walnut Creek at Der Dutchman, a restaurant featuring traditional Amish and Mennonite fare.

In Washington, White House Principal Deputy Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said: "We welcomed reports that they are free and getting the care that they need after their ordeal."

She praised the law enforcement work and Haitian officials who helped get the hostages freed.

Unclear if ransom was paid

The missionaries were kidnapped by the 400 Mawozo gang on Oct. 16. There were five children in the group of 16 U.S. citizens and one Canadian, including an eight-month-old. Their Haitian driver also was abducted, according to a local human rights organization.

The gang's leader had threatened to kill the hostages unless his demands were met. Authorities have said the gang was demanding $1 million US per person, although it wasn't clear if that included the children.

It remained unclear Thursday whether any ransom was paid or what efforts led to the hostages' freedom.

Carleton Horst, a member of Hart Dunkard Brethren Church in Hart, Mich., whose members were among the hostages, said church members received a text message Thursday morning from "someone connected to the situation" that all of the hostages had been released.

'They were treated relatively well'

A mother and four of her children who belong to the congregation were among the hostages. Horst, who is friends with the family, said the church is rejoicing and he's "elated that that portion of things is finally over, just praise the Lord for that."

"We're feeling great," said the Rev. Ron Marks, a minister at the church.

"From what I gathered, they were treated relatively well," Marks said later in a news conference held on Zoom.

People protest for the release of kidnapped missionaries near the missionaries' headquarters in Titanyen on Oct. 19. (Joseph Odelyn/The Associated Press)

Two of the hostages were released in November, and three more earlier this month. They were not identified, but members of the Hart congregation told local media in Michigan that two were from Hart.

In addition to Michigan, the hostages are from Ontario, Wisconsin, Ohio, Tennessee, Pennsylvania and Oregon, according to the missionary group. 

"Today is the day we have been hoping for, praying for, and working so hard to achieve," said Congressman Bill Huizenga, whose western Michigan congressional district includes Hart.

"I want to thank members of the hostage negotiation team for their diligence in securing the safe release of all the hostages. This is a great day for families in Michigan and across the nation who have been worried about the safety of their loved ones."

A sign for the Christian Aid Ministries offices is shown in Berlin, Ohio, on Thursday. (Tom E. Puskar/The Associated Press)

Christian Aid Ministries is mainly staffed and supported by conservative Anabaptists — members of various Amish, Mennonite and related churches characterized by such things as plain dress, a belief in non-resistance to violence and separation from the dominant society.

The organization's roots date to the 1980s, when it began working in then-communist Romania. It has since expanded worldwide but has been particularly active in Haiti.

CAM's work ranges from starting churches and providing food, school supplies and other materials to those in need, to disaster relief and putting up billboards with evangelistic messages.

With files from CBC News

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