NEW YORK – All 13 of the missing Haitian soccer players who disappeared at John F. Kennedy International Airport have been found, according to New York's Haitian Consul General Felix Augustin.
Augustin said 11 of the young players are in a safe place, and two who wound up in Boston are on their way back.
Augustin said the team arrived in New York with chaperones on an American Airlines flight Tuesday. They were scheduled to fly to South Korea Wednesday to prepare for the upcoming U17 World Cup and were planning to stay in a hotel Tuesday night.
But after going through customs, several players went to a McDonald’s in the airport to get food. It is there where 13 of them slipped away, reportedly persuaded by an unknown person or group to get into a van.
Augustin said it was likely that more than one person was involved in the plot.
“Because they were youngsters, they were manipulated by people,” Augustin said during a Thursday press conference at the Haitian Consulate in New York. “I don’t think they understood what the circumstances were.”
After being taken away in the van, the players inexplicably ended up with friends and family members in various boroughs of New York City. Some of the players’ parents then contacted a Miami radio station to report that the boys had been found, and from there Augustin was notified of their safety.
Augustin said it is possible that some of the players’ parents were involved in the plan to divert the boys, but was not able to confirm the allegations.
“Parents can be misguided,” he said. “Everything is possible.”
Augustin also denied any reports that the boys might have fled in order to escape the harsh economic situation in Haiti, saying the boys were "well fed, well bred and the pride of Haiti."
“They have special treatment,” he said. “In Haiti, soccer is king. The government loved them. They had no problem in Haiti.”
Augustin said he believes the players were naïve and were simply acting like 17-year-olds.
“One of them said, ‘We were trying to see New York,’” he recounted.
Augustin said he does not believe the children should be punished for the incident, saying it was a good lesson for them, but does want those who orchestrated the scheme to be prosecuted.
“Someone is responsible,” he said. “Those responsible will have to answer to the law.”
Augustin had not spoken to the coach of the team and was unsure if the team would continue on to South Korea to the World Cup.
He also said he had no knowledge about two missing players on Cuba's national soccer team — who disappeared Wednesday night before a tournament in Houston — and did not know if there was any connection between the two incidents.