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Americans jailed in Haiti tried taking other kids, officer says

From Karl Penhaul, CNN
Americans Laura Silsby, left, and Charisa Coulter leave a court hearing in Port-au-Prince last week.
Americans Laura Silsby, left, and Charisa Coulter leave a court hearing in Port-au-Prince last week.
  • NEW: Officer says he turned back Americans with 40 children
  • Lawyer: Dominican Republic OK'd Americans taking Haitian children across border
  • Attorney says he has documents; Dominican official has said group didn't have OK
  • Ten Americans charged in Haiti with kidnapping 33 Haitian children

Port-au-Prince, Haiti (CNN) -- The group of American Baptist missionaries in Haiti who are facing kidnapping charges for trying to take 33 children out of the country last week made an earlier attempt at taking dozens of other children, according to a Haitian police officer.

The officer, who did not want to be identified for fear of reprisals, said he stopped the 10 missionaries, including group leader Laura Silsby, on January 26 as they allegedly tried to transport 40 children on a bus from Haiti to the Dominican Republic.

The officer says he stopped the group and ordered the children to get off the bus. He then directed Silsby to the Dominican embassy.

The 10 missionaries, including Silsby, were charged Thursday with kidnapping children and criminal association for attempting to take 33 children out of Haiti last week.

The group had authorization from neighboring Dominican Republic to bring the kids across the border, a lawyer for the group said Monday.

Jorge Puello, a Dominican attorney who said he was hired to represent the group, showed reporters a manila folder he said contained documents that prove the Americans had authorization to bring the children into the Dominican Republic. Dominican authorities previously said the Americans did not have permission to bring the children into the country, and Puello did not say whether the group had the authorization of Haitian officials.

The missionaries were scheduled to face hearings Monday and Tuesday in Port-au-Prince, the earthquake-ravaged capital of Haiti.

The Americans said they were just trying to help the children get to a safe place after January 12's magnitude-7.0 earthquake, which has left more than 200,000 dead.

Arriving outside the Haitian attorney general's office Monday, Puello said he was hired by a church that counts some of the jailed Americans among its members. He did not identify the congregation.

One of their attorneys, Edwin Coq, announced over the weekend that he had resigned. Puello said Monday that Coq was fired, but gave no details.

Some of the jailed Americans have said they thought they were helping orphans, but their interpreters said last week that some of the children had parents. The interpreters said they were present when the parents spoke with the Americans.

Some parents in a village outside Port-au-Prince said they had willingly given their children to the Americans, who promised them a better life, and who said the parents could see their children whenever they wanted.

The Dominican consul general has said he spoke with the Silsby before the group attempted to take the children to the Dominican Republic, and that he warned her she didn't have the proper documents to cross the border.

"This woman knew what she was trying to do was not legal," the consul general, Carlos Castillo, said last week.

Silsby and four other Americans arrived for an appearance before an examining judge Monday morning. One of the Americans, Paul Thomson, referred reporters to a passage in the New Testament book of 1 Corinthians, in which the apostle Paul tells early Christians, "It seems to me that God has put us apostles on display at the end of the procession, like men condemned to die in the arena."

"To this very hour we go hungry and thirsty, we are in rags, we are brutally treated, we are homeless," the passage continues. "We work hard with our own hands. When we are cursed, we bless; when we are persecuted, we endure it; when we are slandered, we answer kindly."