'And he’s like, 'Nope, I think we should go' -- and they just walked out'
MADRAS, Ore. (KTVZ) -- Madras resident Austin Smucker, along with 16 other Christian Aid Ministries missionaries kidnapped during a mission trip to Haiti, have safely returned home after a daring escape by moonlight.
“It was with great joy and deep thankfulness to God that I confirm that all 17 staff members of Christian Aid ministries who were held hostage in Haiti by the 400 Mawozo Gang are free!” David Troyer, general director of Christian Aid Ministries, said Monday.
Back in Madras, Angela Rhodes is running her store, Penelope’s Soaps and Such, with a lot more ease, knowing Austin is home.
“She texted me first thing and told me that they were -- that they were out,” Rhodes said Tuesday.
Rhodes opened Penelope's Soaps and Such last February, and sells homemade candles from her friend, Laura Smucker.
When she found out Laura's 27-year-old son had been kidnapped in Haiti, it didn't seem real.
“All these simple things that you think about when you go out of the country -- and then it's like one day, she tells me that he’s been taken and I’m like, 'What? And we were worried about antibiotics?” Rhodes recalled.
News spread about Austin, and people from all over the country started donating money -- and buying Laura's candles.
But Austin's safety was always the main focus.
“She’d just come, and I'd say, ‘What’s happening?’ And she goes either, 'I don’t know,' or 'I can’t talk to you about any of it because it just puts their life in danger if I say a word,'” Rhodes said.
Austin and the other Christian Aid Ministry members were captured on Oct. 16, when a violent Haitian gang surrounded them at a roadblock.
After two months in captivity, the group slipped out the door, put the three young children on their back and hiked nearly 10 miles, using just a landmark and the moonlight to find their way.
Rhodes said the group discussed escaping several times, but Austin never felt like it was the right moment. On the day they finally escaped, it was Austin who gave the group the okay.
“And he’s like, 'Nope, I think we should go' -- and they just walked out,” Rhodes said.
She said Austin lost 20 pounds while being held hostage, but something else in him changed as well.
“And then something that stuck out to me was probably at the beginning of this, he was not in a leadership position, because he was just a kid, and there were older people. But he was in the end, because they listened to him,” Rhodes said.