CNN  — 

Seventeen missionaries from the United States and Canada, some of them minors, were kidnapped in Haiti on Saturday, according to the organization Christian Aid Ministries.

“The group of sixteen US citizens and one Canadian citizen includes five men, seven women, and five children,” read a statement released by the Ohio-based organization Sunday.

“We are seeking God’s direction for a resolution, and authorities are seeking ways to help,” they said.

An investigation is ongoing, according to a source in Haiti’s security forces, who attributed the kidnapping to local gang members. Haitian officials are in touch with the US State Department about the kidnapping, the country’s foreign minister, Claude Joseph, told CNN.

The missionaries were traveling by vehicle Saturday to Titanyen, north of the capital Port-au-Prince, after visiting an orphanage in the Croix des Bouquets area. They were abducted along the route between the two places.

Dan Hooley, a former field director for Christian Aid Ministries in Haiti, told CNN on Sunday that all of the kidnapped missionaries are believed to have been in one vehicle, and that some were able to contact the organization’s local director before they were taken.

The kidnappers have already made contact with the organization, he also said.

“A couple of fellows right away messaged the director and told him what was going on. And one of them was able to drop a pin, and that’s the last thing [the organization] heard until the kidnappers contacted them later in the day,” Hooley said.

In this file image, a woman carries a bucket of water on the street in Croix des Bouquets, 8 miles northeast of the Haitian capital, Port-au-Prince, on December 30, 2019.

One of the abducted missionaries, an American citizen, also posted a call for help in a WhatsApp group as the kidnapping was occurring, The Washington Post reported, quoting a person familiar with the abduction who spoke on the condition of anonymity.

“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.

It is unclear whether the message was a video or a text sent to the WhatsApp group, and there is no information on the WhatsApp group itself in the Washington Post’s reporting.

CNN cannot independently verify the authenticity of this message or the report.

A spokesperson for the US State Department said late Saturday it was aware of the reports, and that “the welfare and safety of US citizens abroad is one of the highest priorities of the Department of State.”

According to a senior US official familiar with the situation, the FBI and State Department officials are working around the clock to secure the release of Americans, but so far do not know the current location of the kidnapped missionaries.

Canadian officials are also working with local authorities and “implicated NGOs” to gather information, a spokeswoman for Global Affairs Canada told CNN.

CNN has reached out to the Haitian Justice Ministry and the National Police but they have not yet commented.

‘They knew the dangers that they were in’

Kidnappings have surged in Haiti throughout 2021, with numbers rising nearly 300% since July.