The leader of the Haitian gang that kidnapped 17 members of a missionary group from Ohio threatened Thursday to “put a bullet in the heads of these Americans” if he doesn’t get the ransom he has demanded.
Wilson Joseph, the head of the 400 Mawozo gang, also threatened Haiti’s prime minister and the chief of the country’s national police, according to The Associated Press, citing a video that was posted on social media.
Joseph’s gang is demanding $1 million per person for the release of the missionaries from Christian Aid Ministries, The Wall Street Journal has reported. The 16 Americans and one Canadian were leaving an orphanage they had visited about an hour outside the capital, Port-au-Prince, when they were kidnapped on Saturday. Among them are five children, including an 8-month-old.
A team from the FBI is in Port-au-Prince helping Haitian authorities negotiate the group’s release.
In the video, Joseph appeared standing in front of coffins that appear to hold the bodies of slain gang members. Some of them seemed to be just teenagers.
“You guys make me cry. I cry water. But I’m going to make you guys cry blood,” he said, according to the AP. Wilson wore a blue suit and blue hat, as well as a large cross on a necklace and multiple rings. He was surrounded by dozens of people in blue shirts. The video ended with a close-up of the men in coffins and musicians playing band music.
Loosely translated as “400 simpletons” or “400 inexperienced men,” the 400 Mawozo gang has taken over neighborhoods throughout Port-au-Prince, as well as the area outside the capital where the missionary group was kidnapped, according to The Washington Post. It’s one of dozens of gangs that have asserted territorial control in the wake of the assassination of Haiti’s president in July.
The 400 Mawozo gang has a reputation for using rape and assassination to maintain its control, the Post reported. In addition to extortion and mass kidnappings, the gang has targeted clergy and churches, a group that’s historically been off limits in the mostly Catholic nation, the newspaper said.
In Berlin, Ohio, Christian Aid Ministries spokesperson Weston Showalter read a letter from the families of the hostages Thursday morning, before news of the video broke
“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,’” the family members wrote, citing the Bible.
Showalter added: “Pray for the kidnappers, that they would experience the love of Jesus and turn to him. And we see that as their ultimate need.”