PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti — Efforts to help Haitians survive the gang violence ravaging their nation suffered a new blow with the kidnapping of an American nurse from New Hampshire and her young daughter, who remained missing Tuesday.
Haiti’s gangs have grown in power since the July 7, 2021 assassination of President Jovenel Moïse and are now estimated to control up to 80% of the capital. Hundreds of people have been reported kidnapped since January, a significant uptick from previous years. The surge in killings, rapes and kidnappings has led to a violent uprising by civilian vigilante groups.
Around 200 Haitians had marched in their nation’s capital to show their anger over the abduction of Alix Dorsainvil, who was working for nonprofit Christian ministry El Roi Haiti when she and the girl were seized Thursday. The kidnapped woman is the wife of El Roi Haiti’s founder Sandro Dorsainvil.
Nonprofit groups are often the only institutions in Haiti’s lawless areas and the deepening violence has forced many to close, leaving thousands of vulnerable families without access to basic services like health care or education.
Doctors Without Borders announced this month that it was suspending services in one of its hospitals because some 20 armed men burst into an operating room and snatched a patient.
Witnesses told The Associated Press that Alix Dorsainvil was working in the small brick clinic late last week when armed men burst in and seized her. Lormina Louima, who was waiting for a check-up, said one man pulled out his gun and told her to relax.
PHOTOS: Efforts to help Haitians suffer grave blow with kidnapping of American nurse and daughter
“When I saw the gun, I was so scared,” Louima said. “I said, ‘I don’t want to see this, let me go.’”
Some members of the community said the unidentified men had asked for $1 million ransom, a standard practice of the gangs killing and sowing terror in Haiti’s impoverished populace. Hundreds of kidnappings have occurred in the country this year alone, figures from the local nonprofit Center for Analysis and Research in Human Rights show.
The same day Dorsainvil and her daughter were taken, the U.S. State Department advised Americans to avoid travel to Haiti and ordered nonemergency personnel to leave, citing widespread kidnappings that regularly target U.S. citizens.
Kenya’s Foreign Ministry said Saturday that it had offered 1,000 police to help train and assist the Haitian National Police “restore normalcy in the country and protect strategic installations.”
Most Haitians say they simply 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 Monday 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.
Jean Ronald said his community has significantly benefitted from the care provided by El Roi Haiti.
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,” Ronald worried. “The money they are asking for, we don’t have it.”
State Department spokesman Matthew Miller wouldn’t say Monday if the abductors had made demands, or answer other questions.
“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 “full of joy, and life and love” and people she was blessed to know.
Dorsainvil graduated from Regis College in Weston, Massachusetts, which has a program to support nursing education in Haiti. Dorsainvil’s father, Steven Comeau, reached in New Hampshire, said he could not talk.
In a blog post Monday, El Roi Haiti said Alix Dorsainvil fell in love with Haiti’s people on a visit after the devastating 2010 earthquake. It said the organization was working with authorities in both countries to free her and her daughter.
“Please continue to pray with us for the protection and freedom of Alix and her daughter. As our hearts break for this situation, we also continue to pray for the country and people of Haiti and for freedom from the suffering they endure daily.”