PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti (AP) — Chants of “freedom” echoed through the streets outside an aid facility in Haiti’s capital, Port-au-Prince, on Monday where just days earlier an American nurse and her daughter were kidnapped by armed men.
Hundreds of Haitians marched through the gang-ravaged zone, bursting with anger at the abduction, which has become a symbol of the worsening violence plaguing the Caribbean nation.
New Hampshire woman Alix Dorsainvil had been working as a community nurse for the Christian aid group El Roi Haiti when she and her daughter were taken from its campus on Thursday, the organization said. She is the wife of its founder, Sandro Dorsainvil.
Witnesses told the Associated Press that Dorsainvil was working in her organization’s small brick clinic when a group of armed men burst in and seized her. Lormina Louima, a patient waiting for a check-up, said one man pulled out his gun and told her to relax.
“When I saw the gun, I was so scared,” Louima said. “I said, ‘I don’t want to see this, let me go.'”
Other members of the community said the unidentified men asked for $1 million in ransom, something that’s become standard as Haiti’s gangs turn to slews of kidnappings to line their pockets and bleed the country dry. Hundreds have been kidnapping in Haiti this year alone, figures from the local nonprofit Center for Analysis and Research in Human Rights show.
Since the assassination of President Jovenel Moïse in 2021, gangs have taken over much of Port-au-Prince, killing, raping and sowing terror in communities already suffering endemic poverty.
The same day that Dorsainvil and her daughter were taken, the U.S. State Department issued a “do not travel advisory” for Haiti and ordered nonemergency personnel to leave amid growing security concerns. In its advisory, the State Department said that “kidnapping is widespread, and victims regularly include U.S. citizens.”
The violence has stirred anger among Haitians, who say they simply just want to live in peace.
Protesters, largely from the area around El Roi Haiti’s campus, which includes a medical clinic, a school and more, echoed that call as they walked through the sweltering streets wielding cardboard signs written in Creole in red paint.
“She is doing good work in the community, free her,” read one.
Among the protesters was Jean Ronald, a local resident who said the community has significantly benefitted from the care provided by El Roi Haiti.
Such groups are often the only institutions in areas far beyond the reach of the law, but have increasingly had to shut down operations as violence has deepened. The closures often leave thousands of vulnerable families without access to basic services like healthcare or education.
Earlier this month, Doctors Without Borders announced it was suspending services in one of its hospitals because some 20 armed men burst into an operating room and snatched a patient.
As the protesters walked through the area where Dorsainvil was taken, the streets were eerily quiet. The doors to the clinic where she worked were shut, the small brick building empty. Ronald and others in the area worried the latest kidnapping may mean the clinic won’t reopen.
“If they leave, everything (the aid group’s programs) will shut down,” the Haitian worried. “The money they are asking for, we don’t have it.”
Shortly after, protests dispersed.
State Department spokesman Matthew Miller refused to confirm Monday whether the abductors had made any demands, or to answer other questions.
“I will say we are aware of the reports that two US citizens were kidnapped in Haiti. Obviously, the safety and security of American citizens overseas is our highest priority. We are in regular contact with the Haitian authorities. We’ll continue to work with them and our US government interagency partners, but because it’s an ongoing law enforcement investigation, there’s not more detail I can offer,” Miller wrote in a statement Monday.
In a video for the El Roi Haiti website, Alix Dorsainvil describes Haitians as “resilient people.”
“They’re full of joy, and life and love. I’m so blessed to know so many amazing Haitians,” she says.
Dorsainvil graduated from Regis College in Weston, Massachusetts, which has a program to support nursing education in Haiti. Before that, she went to Cornerstone Christian Academy in Ossipee, New Hampshire which offers pre-K through eighth grade education.
“Pray that God would keep her safe, be with her through this trial, and deliver her from her captors,” the school said on its Facebook page.
Dorsainvil’s father, Steven Comeau, reached in New Hampshire, said he could not talk.
El Roi Haiti celebrated the nurse’s work in a statement over the weekend.
“Alix is a deeply compassionate and loving person who considers Haiti her home and the Haitian people her friends and family,” El Roi president and co-founder Jason Brown said in the statement. “Alix has worked tirelessly as our school and community nurse to bring relief to those who are suffering as she loves and serves the people of Haiti in the name of Jesus.”
Earlier this month, the National Human Rights Defense Network issued a report warning about an upsurge in killings and kidnappings and the U.N. Security Council met to discuss Haiti’s worsening situation.
AP reporters Megan Janetsky in Mexico City and Pierre Richard Luxama in Port-au-Prince contributed to this story.