'I will put a bullet in the heads of these Americans': Haiti gang leader 'Death Without Days' threatens to KILL 17 missionaries unless ransom is paid
The leader of the Haitian gang that kidnapped 17 missionaries is threatening to kill them if he doesn't receive a ransom of up to $1 million for each person.
'I swear by thunder that if I don't get what m asking for, I will put a bullet in the heads of these Americans,' 400 Mawozo leader Wilson Joseph said in a video posted to social media Thursday.
Joseph - who goes by the alias Lanmò San Jou or 'Death Without Days' - issued the threat as he stood in front of open coffins apparently holding several members of his gang who were recently killed.
Although he has formally issued his ransom demands to the country chief of Ohio-based Christian Aid Ministries, the nonprofit ministry affiliated with the group, he has yet to issue a deadline for the payment.
The 17 American and Canadian missionaries and their families were forced out of a bus at gunpoint after visiting an orphanage on Saturday in the suburbs of Port-au-Prince and taken captive.
It remains unclear if Joseph's $1 million per person demand includes the five children in the group, among them an 8-month-old.
The gang leader also threatened Prime Minister Ariel Henry and the chief of Haiti's National Police, Léon Charles, in his Thursday address.
'You guys make me cry. I cry water. But I'm going to make you guys cry blood,' Joseph said, referencing the deceased members of 400 Mawozo.
Neither Henry or Charles have publicly addressed the threat.
Weston Showalter, spokesman for Christian Aid Ministries, held a news conference Thursday before the video surfaced.
Complete letter from the hostages' families
Dear Church of Christ around the world, thank you for your prayers for our family members who are being held hostage in Haiti.
God has given our loved ones the unique opportunity to live out our Lord's command to love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, Matthew 5:44.
God invites us to call upon his name in the day of trouble, Psalm 15.1-5. We thank him, that he is god, and ask him to hear our prayers and bring our families home.
We also pray that the light of god's love might shine out against the darkness of sin, that the gang members might be freed from their bondage to sin and experience freedom in Jesus Christ.
Thank you brothers and sisters in Christ, and please keep praying for the families of the hostages.
'We are inviting believers from all around the world to join us in praying for our workers, our loved ones that are being held hostage in Haiti,' he said, before reading a letter from the hostages' families.
'God has given our loved ones the unique opportunity to live out our Lord's command to love your enemies,' the letter said in part.
'We also pray that the light of god's love might shine out against the darkness of sin, that the gang members might be freed from their bondage to sin and experience freedom in Jesus Christ.'
Showalter offered no updates on the fate of the hostages who are from Amish, Mennonite and other conservative Anabaptist communities in Ohio, Michigan, Wisconsin, Tennessee, Pennsylvania, Oregon and Ontario, Canada.
The church spokesperson instead invited people to join in prayer for the kidnappers as well as those kidnapped and expressed gratitude for help from 'people that are knowledgeable and experienced in dealing with' such situations.
'Pray for these families,' he said. 'They are in a difficult spot.'
Meanwhile, the FBI and other US agencies are reportedly 'part of a coordinated U.S. government effort' to free the missionaries.
Haiti has the highest per-capita kidnapping rate in the world, with Port-au-Prince now seeing more kidnappings than vastly larger Bogota, Mexico City and Sao Paulo combined, according to the consulting firm Control Risks.
Criminal gangs in Haiti kidnapped at least 119 people, including the missionaries, during the first half of October alone, the Port-au-Prince-based Center for Analysis and Research in Human Rights said on Wednesday, marking a clear escalation over even the previous month.
The 400 Mawozo, a self-mocking name that loosely translates to '400 inexperienced men,' controls the city known as Croix-des-Bouquets where a mission of Ohio-based Christian Aid Ministries was traveling.
How Haiti became the kidnapping capital of the world
Haiti has the highest per-capita kidnapping rate worldwide.
Kidnappings in the country have increased 300 percent between July and September, when at least 221 abductions recorded.
The rise in abductions has coincided with the nation's deepening political turmoil following the July 7 assassination of President Jovenel Moïse.
Port-au-Prince is now posting more kidnappings in absolute terms than Bogotá, Mexico City and São Paulo combined.
At least 328 kidnapping victims were reported to Haiti's National Police in the first eight months of 2021, compared with a total of 234 for all of 2020.
Abductions dropped briefly after Moïse's assassination, but surged again to 73 in August and to 117 in September.
Gangs are responsible for most of the nation's kidnappings and have been accused of abducting schoolchildren, doctors, police officers, busloads of passengers and others.
In recent weeks, people have been taken while attending church and commuting to work. Preachers have been abducted while delivering sermons.
Gang members have even kidnapped poor street vendors who have little to no money. These individuals are then forced to sell items from their homes, such as radios or refrigerators, to afford their freedom.
In another instance, a group of schoolchildren came together to raise money to pay their classmate's ransom.
The 400 Mawozo gang, which abducted 17 missionaries and their families on Oct. 16, is responsible for approximately 80 percent of the kidnappings in Haiti.
400 Mawozo is known for its 'collective kidnappings' in which they abduct entire cars or buses of people.
The gang's leader, Wilson Joseph aka Lanmò San Jou (Death Without Days), has been wanted by the Haitian government for several months.
The Police Nationale d'Haiti publicly announced they were searching for Joseph in December 2020. They claimed he was on the run following the first phase of an operation to dismantle the gang.
In April, the gang abducted 10 people including five priests and two nuns - among them, two French citizens.
The 10 were released after three weeks and said they had not been tortured or harmed, but suffered from a lack of food and medications.
A ransom was paid in that case.
The same day that the missionaries were kidnapped, a gang also abducted a Haiti university professor, according to a statement that Haiti's ombudsman-like Office of Citizen Protection issued on Tuesday.
It also noted that a Haitian pastor abducted earlier this month has not been released despite a ransom being paid.
'The criminals ... operate with complete impunity, attacking all members of society,' the organization said.
However, Gèdèon Jean, the executive director of the Center for Analysis and Research in Human Rights, an advocacy group in Port-au-Prince, previously told the The New York Times that the Christina Aid Ministries missionaries would definitely be released.
'The hostages are going to be freed - that's for sure. We don't know in how many days, but they're going to negotiate,' Jean said Tuesday.
'The 400 Mawozo gang don't want to kill the hostages. Nowadays the gangs, especially in a situation that is a little financially vulnerable, they increase kidnappings to have enough money.
'So the motive behind the surge in kidnappings for us is a financial one, if the gangs need money to buy ammunition, to get weapons, to be able to function.'
The rash of kidnappings led to a strike Monday that shuttered businesses, schools and public transportation.
Life was largely back to normal on Wednesday, but unions and other groups vowed to organize another strike next week, and sporadic protests erupted Wednesday in Port-au-Prince over the lack of fuel, with gangs blamed for blocking gas distribution terminals.
Dozens of moto taxi drivers zoomed around one Delmas neighborhood, setting barricades of tires on fire and throwing rocks across roads to block them.
'We want gas for work! If we don't find gas, we're going to shut down the country completely!' they yelled. '(Prime Minister) Ariel Henry, if he cannot run the country, he must go!'
Similar protests erupted the day before.
In a more peaceful demonstration Tuesday north of Port-au-Prince, dozens of people walked through the streets of Titanyen demanding the release of the missionaries. Some carried signs that read 'Free the Americans' and 'No to Kidnapping!' and explained that the missionaries helped pay bills and build roads and schools.
'They do a lot for us,' said Beatrice Jean.
One protest took place near the prime minister's residence, where police fired tear gas to disperse a crowd demanding fuel.
The kidnapping was the largest of its kind reported in recent years.
Haitian gangs have grown more brazen as the country tries to recover from the July 7 assassination of President Jovenel Moïse and the earthquake that killed more than 2,200 people.