PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti – Gunmen have released 14 Haitian children and an American missionary who were abducted in separate incidents, police said Friday.
The missionary, Phillip Snyder, was released Friday after a ransom was paid, said police Commissioner Francois Henri Doussous, head of Haiti's anti-kidnapping unit. He would not specify how much was paid but said it was "much less" than the $300,000 the kidnappers initially sought.
The gunmen released the children and their school bus driver unharmed Thursday night, hours after their bus was hijacked by gunmen on the way to school.
The kidnappings came five weeks before national elections to restore democracy to Haiti, which has seen a sharp increase in abductions amid the chaos following the ouster of President Jean-Bertrand Aristide in February 2004.
Doussous said police did not believe the latest kidnappings were politically motivated. "This is purely criminal activity, the gangs need money," he said.
It was not immediately clear who paid the ransom for Snyder. Doussous said the kidnappers were members of criminal gangs based in Cite Soleil, a sprawling seaside slum that is a base for heavily armed gangs blamed for numerous kidnappings.
Snyder, 48, was treated for a gunshot wound to his shoulder and released from a U.N. military hospital, police said. The president of Zeeland, Mich.-based Glow Ministries International was abducted Thursday on the main road leading north from the Haitian capital.
"My father is fine," Chad Snyder, the kidnapped missionary's son, said in a brief telephone interview in Port-au-Prince.
The missionary's wife, Amber Snyder, said before his release that she and her husband were aware of the dangers in Haiti but kept it in the back of their minds. She said her husband's family has worked in Haiti for more than three decades helping the poor.
"He's a foreigner. They assume every foreigner has money or has resources," Amber Snyder, who met her husband on a Christian mission trip in Haiti when she was 17, told The Associated Press before hearing of her husband's release.
A young boy kidnapped along with Snyder was freed and in good condition. The missionary had been helping the boy obtain a medical visa so he could have eye surgery, Amber Snyder said.
"There's a tremendous sense of relief," Amber Snyder's uncle, Denny Bull, said from Zeeland after Snyder was freed. "We had confidence that this would happen. We just did not know when."
Haitian radio reported that an unspecified ransom was paid for the kidnapped children, but Doussous said the gunmen received no money. He said they released the hostages because of intense public attention and because police checkpoints prevented them from returning to Cite Soleil on the outskirts of Port-au-Prince.
The children were aged 5-17. There were no arrests.
Doussous said police favored negotiating with the gangs, fearing that a raid on Cite Soleil would ignite a large-scale gun battle, endangering innocent bystanders.
A U.N. peacekeeper was killed by gangs in October during a raid in Cite Soleil to release a kidnap victim.