Three Haitian police officers on duty. Photo via Barbados Today

A police officer with Haiti’s Narcotics Trafficking Brigade was shot dead while trying to stop a kidnapping on Oct. 16, the same day that gangs took hostage 17 foreign missionaries on their way from an orphanage. 

The incident that left officer Pierre Richard dead and injured officer Ysrael Dimitry took place along Rue Cameau in Port-au-Prince Saturday, according to local media.  Armed bandits were in the process of kidnapping Patrick Derenoncourt, professor of criminology and constitutional law at the State University of Haiti, when members of the Haitian National Police came upon the scene. 

The officers, Richard and Dimitry among them, exchanged gunfire with the bandits. The officers were shot, and the bandits took off with Derenoncourt as hostage.

That same day, members of the 400 Mawozo gang abducted the missionaries — 16 Americans and one Canadian citizen, including several children — according to The Miami Herald.  That kidnapping happened in Ganthier, a community east of the capital, after the missionaries returned from visiting an orphanage.

The 400 Mawozo gang typically operates in the Croix-des-Bouquets area, and is known for attacking vehicles and kidnapping people from cars and buses. As of Monday morning, The Herald reported, FBI agents were in Haiti to investigate the abduction.

Kidnapping-for-ransom schemes have become a staple of daily Haitian life around the capital over the last year. Street gangs including 400 Mawazo and G9 Family and Allies have either been suspected or claimed responsibility for the day-to-day kidnapping of Haitians from all walks of life as a way to draw cash. The gangs have also been linked to various massacres that occurred in neighborhoods around the capital, including in Martissant, Bel-Air, Delmas.

Scores have died during these kidnappings or attempts in Haiti, considered one of the world’s most fragile states. Kidnappings increased by 200% in the first half of 2020 compared to the prior year, the United Nations has reported, with 161 cases reported through October. Gangs have also been implicated in murders, over 70% of which occurred in marginalized Port-au-Prince neighborhoods, from March to August of last year, the UN also reported.   

Foreign governments, including the U.S., have issued high-alert warnings to their citizens warning them not to travel to Haiti, as a result, The Haitian Times has reported previously. The U.S. State Department issued its highest “Do Not Travel” alert, its highest travel advisory due to life-threatening risks, in March 2020. The United Kingdom and Canada both issued similar warnings in August and this month, respectively. 

Members of the 400 Mawozo gang are also blamed for allegedly  storming the home of well-known sculptor Anderson Belony in the artisanal village of Noailles, Croix-des-Bouquets, killing him. Belony, known for his metalworks, owns some of the oldest Vodou shrines and paintings in Haiti.

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