The family of an American couple kidnapped in Haiti demands their release
San Juan, Puerto Rico — Nikese Toussaint was at church, so she didn’t see her sister’s text message.
All she knew at the time was that their brother and his wife, who live in the United States, had landed safely in Haiti to visit sick relatives and prepare for Rara, a colorful festival. and loud born from the dark days of slavery.
It wasn’t until Toussaint came home and his sister followed the unread text of a phone call that she learned his warnings had materialized: their brother, an accountant; his wife, a social worker; and another person was snatched from a public bus amid a wave of gang-related kidnappings.
Toussaint took a deep breath. Not yet, she thought.
Seventeen years earlier, gangs had kidnapped two of his cousins in the capital Port-au-Prince. They were eventually released but remain traumatized.
This time, the gang that kidnapped his brother, his wife, and another person is asking for $200,000 each.
“How are we going to find this money? Toussaint told The Associated Press in a Monday phone interview from the United States.
The kidnapping took place on March 18 and since then her brother, Jean-Dickens Toussaint, has only been allowed to make two brief calls.
All his family knows is that he and his wife, Abigail Michael Toussaint, are tied up. Phone calls are too brief to know if they are getting food or water or if they are generally being treated well, said Nikese Toussaint.
The couple were on their way to Jean-Dickens Toussaint’s hometown of Léogane, which many Haitians say holds the best Rara festival in the country. Three pandemic years had passed since he had last led a group of Rara on these streets, and the 33-year-old accountant was delighted to return to his role as ‘Colonel’.
Rara resembles a carnival, with drums, bamboo instruments and metal horns accompanying the singers as they parade through the city behind bandleaders like Toussaint in tribute to the slave revolution that led to Haiti becoming the world’s first black republic.
But the party is cut short.
The Toussaints, originally from Tamarac, Florida, never made it to Léogane.
Gangs stopped the public bus they were in as it attempted to drive through Martissant, seen as ground zero for ongoing violence that has escalated since the July 2021 assassination of President Jovenel Moïse.
The gangs apparently noticed the suitcases on the bus and focused on the couple and the person accompanying them on the trip, Nikese Toussaint said.
The family paid someone they trusted $6,000 to give to the gang, but the money disappeared. It is not uncommon for gangs in Haiti to refuse to release kidnap victims even after they have been paid, but Toussaint believes it was a scam.
“That’s when we said, ‘Um, oh, we have to get help,'” she recalled.
Toussaint said his family is in contact with the FBI, which is helping with the casew
“At the gangs, I mean, we want our family back. We are not rich here,” said Nikese Toussaint.
A statement from the US State Department said the agency was aware of reports of the kidnapping of two US citizens and was in regular contact with Haitian authorities.
The kidnappings are the latest to target US citizens, though most of the victims are Haitian, ranging from wealthy business owners to humble street vendors. At least 101 kidnappings were reported in the first two weeks of March alone, and another 208 people were killed in gang clashes during this period, according to the UN.
Ongoing violence in Port-au-Prince and beyond has also displaced at least 160,000 people as warring gangs torched neighborhoods in their bid to control more territory.
More than a week has passed since the Toussaints were kidnapped. Their family is trying to stay strong as the couple have a son who will turn 2 on Tuesday.
“We try to smile,” Nikese Toussaint said of their 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 that’s where the pain gets a little harder.”