Indiana Daily Student

Missionaries freed by Haitian judge back in US

MIAMI — Eight American missionaries were back on U.S. soil Thursday but still faced possible child kidnapping charges in Haiti for trying to take 33 children out of the earthquake-ravaged country.

The group’s leader, Laura Silsby, and her former nanny, Charisa Coulter, remained in a Port-au-Prince jail because a judge said questions still remained about their plans to set up an orphanage in the Dominican Republic.

The group was caught Jan. 29 trying to take the children out of Haiti without adoption certificates. The arrests came as aid officials were urging a halt to short-cut adoptions in the wake of the earthquake.

Silsby originally said the children were orphans or had been abandoned. But The Associated Press determined that at least 20 were handed over willingly by their parents, who said the Baptists promised to educate their kids in the U.S. and let them visit.

The fact that the children were given up willingly helped convince Haitian Judge Bernard Saint-Vil to free the eight without bail on Wednesday. But the group was released with the understanding they will return to Haiti if the judge requests it.

The missionaries deny the trafficking charges and have said they were on a do-it-youself “rescue mission” to take child quake victims to a hastily prepared orphanage in the Dominican Republic.

Gary Lissade, the Haitian attorney for freed detainee Jim Allen said he expected the charges to be dropped against the eight.

Saint-Vil said he did not release Silsby, 47, or Coulter, 24, because they had previously visited Haiti in December with plans to open an orphanage. Silsby quickly pulled together the rest of the group after the quake. Coulter is diabetic and the judge signed an order Wednesday afternoon authorizing her hospitalization. Saint-Vil said he had planned to question both women Thursday but that Coulter’s health situation could prompt a delay.

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