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Posted Saturday, July 22, 2006
Oh, My God: NC missionary describes 5-day kidnapping in Haiti
By The Associated Press

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti, Jul. 21, 2006 - Two U.S. missionaries held hostage for five days in Haiti spent their captivity crammed in a sweltering makeshift cell and passed time by praying and even ministering to their kidnappers, one of the men said Friday.

In an interview with The Associated Press, Tom Barron said he and fellow hostage William Eugene Seastrum were treated relatively well during the ordeal despite occasionally being threatened with loaded pistols to speed up the ransom negotiation.

"If you compare it to what other people have gone through, we were probably treated well," Barron said by telephone from a safehouse in Port-au-Prince a day after being freed.

"But there were times when they wanted to put some pressure on us and get their point across, coming in yelling and waving their pistols around," he said, describing the experience as "the fear of the unknown."

Barron and Seastrum, both of High Point, North Carolina, were snatched by gunmen Sunday on their way to church with three Haitian friends. They were released Thursday after negotiations led by the FBI.

Once rare in Haiti, kidnappings for ransom have flourished since the ouster of former President Jean-Bertrand Aristide in a February 2004 revolt. Most of the kidnappings are blamed on well-armed street gangs, some loyal to Aristide.

U.N. peacekeepers and Haitian police have tried to combat the gangs but have largely failed to penetrate the dense, lawless slums where they operate.

Barron said they were brought to a house in the nearby slum of Cite Soleil and locked in a boiling-hot, 9-foot by 10-foot room with blankets over the windows and a single mattress on the floor that they shared with a Haitian hostage.

Through holes in the brick walls, they could see U.N. helicopters swirling above during the day and hear heavy barrages of gunfire at night, most likely fighting between U.N. troops and gangs.

"It was a like a war zone. There were machine guns. It sounded really close," he said.

Barron, pastor of the Mustard Seed church, said he and Seastrum prayed with others hostages held in an adjoining room and tried to minister to some of the kidnappers, who he said included teenagers and men in their early 40s.

"One guy came in by himself and told us his wife was killed by the U.N. and that he hoped one day he could accept Jesus and be strong as we were. I told him, 'You could do it right now,'" Barron said.

Other encounters were less cordial.

Every so often a kidnapper with a shirt over his face burst into the room, pointing a loaded pistol and demanding they speed up the ransom delivery.

Barron said the captors initially sought $500,000 but wouldn't say how much was finally paid. A U.N. official said the men were released for an amount below $10,000.

Also freed the same day was another American hostage, 70-year-old businessman Charles Adams, who was abducted by gunmen Wednesday. Adams, of Queensbury, New York, said in an e-mail message that he was treated well and released without paying a ransom.

Barron, 46, said he and Seastrum would return to North Carolina soon but didn't rule out a return to Haiti, where's he been doing missionary work since 1999.

"If it's God's will for me to come back, I'll come back," Barron said. "But it won't be next week."

Copyright 2006 The Associated Press

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