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A photo of the 17 freed hostages taken in Florida is seen at the press conference at Christian Aid Ministries home office in Berlin, OH on December 20, 2021. Image Credit: AP

Washington: The 12 missionaries who were freed from captivity in Haiti last week had staged a dramatic escape on Wednesday night, making their way past guards and travelling on foot for about 10 miles while carrying two small children, their missionary organization said Monday.

“They found a way to open the door that was closed and blocked, filed silently to the path that they had chosen to follow and quickly left the place that they were held, despite the fact that numerous guards were close by,” Weston Showalter, the spokesperson for Christian Aid Ministries, said at a news briefing at the organization’s home office in Ohio, recounting the story for the first time.

The account of the escape comes solely from the US missionary group. The police and government officials in Haiti did not respond to requests for comment on the incident. The FBI declined to comment beyond an earlier statement expressing gratitude for the safe release of the hostages.

The ordeal began two months ago, when the group was kidnapped by a gang called 400 Mawozo in a neighbourhood of Port-au-Prince after visiting an orphanage. Gang members surrounded its van, penning the missionaries in with two vehicles, and then took them to a small house. The missionaries were held in a small room, about 10 by 12 feet, Showalter said.

The group that escaped included a married couple, a 10-month-old baby, a 3-year-old child, a 14-year-old girl, a 15-year-old boy, four men and two women, he said. Five other members of the group had been released during the past month.

For days, Showalter said, the missionaries prayed that God would reveal the right moment for their escape.

Twice when they planned to flee, God told them to wait, he said. But on Wednesday night, the missionaries put on their shoes and packed water in their clothes. They used a mountain as a landmark and followed the light of the moon and “the sure guidance of the stars,” he said.

As daylight broke, they found someone to help them make a phone call. Later that day, they were on a Coast Guard flight to Florida.

“They were finally free,” Showalter said, through tears.

It was not clear how the missionaries escaped their guards after weeks of being held captive under close watch.

The organization said that an unspecified ransom had been provided but did not describe the money as leading directly to the hostages’ freedom. Instead David N. Troyer, general director of Christian Aid Ministries, said that “after many days of waiting and no action on the part of the kidnappers, God worked in a miraculous way to enable the hostages to escape.”