BOISE, Idaho – The leader of an American group detained while trying to take 33 children out of Haiti after the January earthquake defended her actions upon her release, saying she was "wrongly accused and held without just cause."
Laura Silsby was freed in May after being convicted of arranging illegal travel and sentenced to time served. But another set of legal woes awaited her at home in Idaho. As she had been sitting in a Haitian jail, her ex-husband sought sole custody of their 5-year-old daughter and 15-year-old son.
Silsby responded in an affidavit, filed in Idaho's 4th District Court a week after her return, expressing her desire to be with her children and downplaying the charges she faced in Haiti.
"The only charge on which I was even deemed to be 'convicted' was a charge of 'irregular travel,' which was added after the other members of my group were released," Silsby said in her affidavit, obtained Friday by The Associated Press. Excerpts were first reported Friday by the Idaho Statesman.
The custody issues were part of a divorce case scheduled to go to trial Friday, but a 4th District Court clerk told The Associated Press the proceedings were canceled after both sides came to an agreement.
Silsby declined to speak with reporters after returning to Idaho and has not talked publicly about her experience in Haiti. The seven-page affidavit provides a brief glance into her side of the ordeal.
"Now that I am free to speak, I expect to be able to conclusively demonstrate that I was wrongly accused and held without just cause," she said.
Silsby said she felt strongly compelled to go to Haiti with a team of Christian volunteers, mostly from her church, to help rescue children orphaned by the earthquake. The group was assured they would be able to take the children to an orphanage in the Dominican Republic without issue, Silsby said.
"We learned ours was only one of many groups bringing children out of Haiti without documents or incident," Silsby said. "However, as we arrived at the border, our group of 10 Americans was suddenly stopped and arrested."
Silsby initially told the court she thought the children were orphans whose homes were destroyed in the earthquake. An AP investigation later revealed all of the children had at least one living parent, who had turned their children over to the group in hopes of securing better lives for them.
Silsby was first charged with kidnapping and criminal association, but those charges were dropped for her and the nine other Americans, who were released in February and March. Silsby was convicted of arranging illegal travel under a 1980 statute restricting movement out of Haiti signed by then-dictator Jean-Claude Duvalier.
A phone number for Silsby was not available Friday. A pastor at Central Valley Baptist Church in Meridian did not immediately return a phone call from The AP.
In her affidavit, Silsby expressed a desire to move past the episode.