What's crackin', friends? I haven't posted much in the past week or so 'cause I was first prepping to go, then en route, and for the past few days on site in Haiti.
I won't be melodramatic, but suffice it to say that as good as the Miami Herald's coverage has been - and some of the TV coverage too (my favorite on this story has been CNN; very thorough) - photos and video don't begin to bring to life all the death and destruction down here.
I think our folks have gotten as close as you can get, but till you see it, feel it, smell it, etc., you can't fully grasp the emotional explosion the Haitian people have dealt with.
Anywho, among the stories I've been working on is the one about the missionaries from Idaho. You may know eight of 'em were released on Wednesday. Two more - the two authorities in Haiti considered "ringleaders" - were kept in custody. They'd hoped to get out on Thursday. Didn't happen. I wrote a short piece for the Miami Herald that didn't make into the paper's schedule for tomorrow. So I'm just posting it here for your consumption. Following the short story, a few pics from Port-au-Prince - apologies in advance if you've already seen the pics on my Facebook page or through my Tweets. More to come over the next few days:
PORT-AU-PRINCE - Two missionaries from Idaho, accused of conspiring to kidnap Haitian children last month, remained in police custody Thursday and were dealt what could be a long delay in their release - this, just one day after eight of their peers, held on the same criminal charges, were freed and flown to Miami.
Laura Silsby and her former nanny, Charisa Coulter, were taken from a downtown Port-au-Prince jail to a nearby courthouse shortly before noon Thursday for a hearing on their status with senior judge Bernard Samvil.
The entire group was first arrested at the Haiti-Domincan Republic border Jan. 29th, 17 days after the earthquake that killed more than 200,000 people, when they were unable to provide Haitian border police with documents proving the 33 Haitian children on board hadn't been taken against their will.
It was determined in court Wednesday that Silsby's eight colleagues did not intentionally violate Haitian law, and that if anything the children's parents may have violated the law by bypassing adoption protocol and essentially signing their children over to Silsby's group.
Silsby and Coulter had hoped that Samvil would follow the same logic and free themThursday afternoon.
Instead Samvil decided during the hearing that releasing the women was out of the question until three things happened:
* Silsby and Coulter convince Samvil that they had been in Haiti prior to the Jan. 12 earthquake, so that he can be satisfied they didn't arrive post-quake with kidnapping in mind.
* Silsby and Coulter prove to Samvil what business they had in Haiti...if they were in the country prior to the earthquake.
* Samvil travels to Domincan Republic so that he can personally see that the Domincan orphanage Silsby's group claimed they were delivering the Haitian children to really does exist.
Silsby was all smiles as she and Coulter were whisked from the courthouse and returned to jail. "No, not today," she answered a reporter who'd asked if she thought Samvil might have pity and free the pair Thursday evening.
Aviol Fleurant, the missionaries' attorney, praised the judge, but express frustration that Samvil felt the need to travel to the Dominican Republic to see the orphanage at the root of this drama.
Such a trip could take days to plan and longer to be carried out, Fleurant said, adding that "We have proof - here! - documents from the Dominican government authorizing the acceptance of the children into this orphanage. And the pastor - Pastor Jose Orlando Hidalgo - of the church that administrates the orphanage has offered to come here and meet with the judge and tell him!"
Fleurant dismissed questions about the nature of his primary client Silsby's relationship with Jorge Puello, a Domincan resident and child sex-trafficking suspect, who portrayed himself to be an attorney representing Silsby's group.
"There is no connection," Fleurant bristled. "The truth is Laura Silsby did not even meet Jorge Puello until after she was arrested."
But rather than deny reports that Hidalgo's Domincan orphanage might just be an empty building housing no children and is located in a neighborhood well-known for child sex-trafficking, Fleurant simply suggested such a neighborhood should have an orphanage.
"If you can put an orphanage in such an area, that is not a bad thing. There is where they need it most, no," he asked, refusing to dispute the orphanage's location.
As to Judge Samvil's questions, Fleurant said those were easy to satisfy. "They were in Haiti in December 2009," for Christmas, he said. "They distributed toys to school children."
Fleurant said that Samvil will meet again Friday with Silsby and Coulter, to further address his questions.
No date had been set by the close of business Thursday for Samvil's visit to Dominican Republic to visit the crucial orphanage.
This pic is Laura Silsby being escorted into court today. I know it's fuzzy. I took it 'cause no pro photogs on my team were around:
This pic is of me on a fallen building. I had been trying to talk to a group of kids who were playing on the building, but they were playing cat and mouse with me. So I handed my fixer (guard/driver/translator, etc.) my bag, camera, etc., and ran after the kids. They got away from me. And while I was trying to decide whether to suspend pursuit, Aldrin AKA "Audi," the fixer, called out to me and when I turned, snapped my picture. Maybe you can see the irritation on my face?
The next several pics I took while out reporting on political rallies led by young Haitians. They were gathered in the streets outside the semi-collapsed presidential palace. The helicopter pics were of French Pres. Sarkozy's chopper arriving at the palace to pick him up and take him away. The other pics are just general shots of the devestation and crowds. The giant pile of rubble in the third pic from the bottom was the Tax Ministry building AKA Haitian IRS. If this wasn't such a tragedy, no doubt there'd be jokes in the irony of the tax office collapsing.