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Officer: U.S. missionaries had tried to take other Haitian kids

From Karl Penhaul, CNN
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Officer details earlier attempt
  • Ten Americans in Haiti charged with kidnapping 33 Haitian children
  • Officer says the group had tried to take another group of children out of country illegally
  • He says he stopped bus with 40 kids on it, directed group leader to Dominican Embassy
  • Police officer's superiors confirm his version of events

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

The officer did not want to be identified for fear of reprisals. He told CNN on Monday that he had stopped the 10 Baptist missionaries, including group leader Laura Silsby, on January 26 as they tried to transport 40 children from Haiti to the Dominican Republic.

The officer said he discovered Silsby and the nine other Americans on a bus in Port-au-Prince's Pétionville neighborhood after receiving a tip from a concerned citizen.

He stopped the group and ordered the children to get off the bus. He then directed Silsby to the Dominican Embassy.

"I said what happened, and she [Silsby] told me, 'I have the paperwork to cross the Haitian-Dominican border with 100 children,' " the officer said. A former attorney for the group, Edwin Coq, said the officer has testified of his account.

Prosecutors questioned the officer last week in the case against the missionaries. Prosecutors no longer suspect him of any wrongdoing, and he is now a witness, according Coq, who is familiar with the prosecution's case file.

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The police officer's superiors also confirmed his version of events. Attorneys for the Americans did not immediately answer calls for comment.

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The 10 missionaries were charged Thursday with kidnapping children and criminal association for trying to take 33 children out of Haiti.

Earlier Monday, Jorge Puello, a Dominican attorney who said he was hired to represent the group, said they had authorization from the Dominican Republic to bring the children across the border.

Puello showed reporters a manila folder he said contained documents that prove the Americans had authorization to bring the children into the Dominican Republic, but he did not show the documents to reporters.

Dominican authorities have said the Americans did not have permission, and Puello did not say whether the group had the authorization of Haitian officials.

The Americans have said they were 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.

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

Coq announced over the weekend that he had resigned. Puello said Monday that Coq had been fired but gave no details.

Some of the Americans have said they thought they were helping orphans, but their interpreters said this week that they were present when group members spoke with some of the children's parents.

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. The parents also said they had been told they could see their children whenever they wanted. But the Dominican consul general has said he warned the group's leader, Silsby, about trying to cross the border without proper documents.

Silsby and four other Americans arrived for an appearance before an examining judge Monday. One of them, 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."

The passage continues, "To this very hour we go hungry and thirsty, we are in rags, we are brutally treated, we are homeless. 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."