US couple kidnapped in Haiti, family pleads for release

The US couple and the person accompanying them on the trip to Haiti were snatched off a public bus amid a spate of gang-related kidnappings.

SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico — Nikese Toussaint was at church so she didn’t see her sister’s text message.

All she knew at that point was that her brother and his wife, who live in the US, had landed safely Haiti to visit sick relatives and prepare for Rara, a colorful and boisterous festival born out of the dark days of slavery.

It wasn’t until Toussaint got home and her sister answered the unread text with a phone call that she learned her warnings had come true: her brother, an accountant; his wife, a social worker; and another person were snatched off a public bus amid a spate of gang-related kidnappings.

Toussaint took a deep breath. Not again, she thought.

Seventeen years earlier, gangs had kidnapped two of her cousins ​​in the capital, Port-au-Prince. They were eventually released but remain traumatized.

This time, the gang that kidnapped her brother, wife and one other person are asking for $200,000 each.

“How are we ever going to get this money?” Toussaint told The Associated Press in a phone interview from the United States on Monday

The kidnapping took place on March 18, and since then her brother Jean-Dickens Toussaint has only been allowed to make two short calls.

All his family knows is that he and his wife Abigail Michael Toussaint are tied up. The phone calls are too short to find out if they’re getting food or water or are generally being treated well, Nikese Toussaint said.

The couple were en route to Leogane, the hometown of Jean-Dickens Toussaint, which many Haitians believe organizes the country’s best rare festival. Three pandemic years had passed since he last walked a rare band through these streets, and the 33-year-old accountant was looking forward to resuming his role as “Colonel”.

Rara resembles a carnival, with drums, bamboo instruments and metal horns accompanying singers as they parade through town behind band leaders like Toussaint, a tribute to the slave revolution that led to Haiti becoming the world’s first black republic.

But the celebration was cancelled.

The Toussaints of Tamarac, Fla. never made it to Leogane.

Gangs stopped the public bus they were on as it attempted to cross Martissant, believed to be ground zero for ongoing violence that has worsened since President Jovenel Moïse’s assassination in July 2021.

The gangs apparently noticed the suitcases on the bus and focused on the couple and the person who was accompanying them on the journey, Nikese Toussaint said.

The family paid someone they trusted $6,000 to give to the gang, but the money disappeared. It’s not uncommon for gangs in Haiti to refuse to release kidnapping victims even after they’ve been paid, but Toussaint believes it was a scam.

“So we said, ‘Oh, oh, we have to get help,'” she recalls. “We didn’t know what to do at that point. We don’t want to take any more risks.”

Toussaint said her family is in touch with the FBI who are helping with the case

“I want to say to the gangs, we want our family back. We’re not rich over here,” said Nikese Toussaint.

A statement from the US State Department said the agency is aware of reports of the kidnapping of two US citizens and is in regular contact with Haitian authorities.

The kidnappings are the latest to target US citizens, although most victims are Haitians, ranging from wealthy business owners to humble street vendors. At least 101 kidnappings were reported in the first two weeks of March alone, with another 208 people killed in gang fighting during that period, according to the United Nations

Ongoing violence in Port-au-Prince and beyond has displaced at least 160,000 people as warring gangs torched neighborhoods in a bid to control more territory.

It’s been over a week since the Toussaints were kidnapped. Her family is trying to stay strong because the couple have a son who turns 2 on Tuesday.

“We try to smile,” Nikese Toussaint said of her video calls with the boy. “We have to smile with him and give him love and at the same time we get a little smile (from him) and then the pain gets a little bit stronger.” US couple kidnapped in Haiti, family pleads for release

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