Missionaries freed from Haitian jail return home

By DAVID FISCHER and FRANK BAJAK
Associated Press Writers
MIAMI (AP) - Eight American missionaries were back in the U.S.
on Thursday but still faced possible child kidnapping charges in
Haiti for trying to take 33 children out of the earthquake ravaged
country.
The group's leader, Laura Silsby, and her former nanny, Charisa
Coulter, remained in a Port au Prince jail and appeared before a
judge Thursday to answer questions about their plans to set up an
orphanage in the Dominican Republic.
Silsby told reporters before the hearing that she was
optimistic. Coulter, who has diabetes and was briefly hospitalized
for feeling faint the previous day, said she was feeling better.
The group was caught Jan. 29 trying to take the children out of
Haiti without adoption certificates. The arrests came as aid
officials urged a halt to short-cut adoptions in the wake of the
earthquake.
Silsby originally said the children were orphans or had been
abandoned. But The Associated Press determined that at least 20
were handed over willingly by their parents, who said the Baptists
promised to educate their kids in the U.S. and let them visit.
The fact that the children were given up voluntarily helped
convince Haitian Judge Bernard Saint-Vil to free the eight without
bail on Wednesday. The group was released with the understanding
they will return to Haiti if the judge requests it.
Haiti's No. 2 justice official, Claudy Gassent, said he talked
to the Americans before their release.
"They know they broke the law," he said.
Saint-Vil said he did not release Silsby, 47, or Coulter, 24,
both of Boise, Idaho, because the two had previously visited Haiti
in December and planned even before the quake to open an orphanage.
After the quake, Silsby rushed to pull together the rest of the
group.
Silsby's sister in Idaho, Kim Barton, said learning that her
sister could not leave Haiti was difficult.
"At this point, I don't have any comment. I don't know any more
than you do," Barton said.
The group denies the child trafficking charges, arguing the trip
was a do-it-yourself "rescue mission" to take child quake victims
to a hastily prepared orphanage in the Dominican Republic.
They returned to the U.S. just after midnight Wednesday, flying
aboard a U.S. Air Force C-130 that landed at Miami International
Airport. They spent a night at a Miami airport hotel before flying
on to Texas, Idaho and Kansas City, Mo.
Gary Lissade, the Haitian attorney for Jim Allen of Amarillo,
Texas, said he expected the charges to be dropped against the
eight.
"My faith means everything to me, and I knew this moment would
come when the truth would set me free," Allen said in a statement
issued by the Liberty Legal Institute in Plano, Texas.
A welcome home rally was planned for Allen later Thursday at the
Amarillo Civic Center. He is scheduled to appear Friday on "The
Oprah Winfrey Show."
Four of the detainees were headed to Topeka, Kansas. They
included Drew Culberth, a 35-year-old Topeka firefighter and father
of four; Culberth's brother-in-law, Paul Thompson; Thompson's son
Silas Thompson, 19; and Steve McMullin.
Caleb Stegall, a lawyer for Culberth, says the Thompsons and
McMullin, all from Twin Falls, Idaho, are expected to join Culberth
in Topeka for an indefinite stay.
News of Culberth's release cheered the spirits of members of his
church, but they worried about what awaits him. Culberth has been
the youth pastor at Bethel Baptist in north Topeka since 2004.
"Is this really over once he's home?" said Veronica Culberson,
a church member and mother of four who works in the church's youth
program. "That's what I think the apprehension is. We'll just be
happy to have him home."
---
John Hanna in Topeka, Kansas, and Frank Bajak in Port-au-Prince,
Haiti, contributed to this story.

(Copyright 2010 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)


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