BOISE, Idaho (AP) - An Idaho Baptist pastor offered mixed feelings Wednesday on the decision by a Haitian judge to release eight of 10 American missionaries charged with child kidnapping after trying to bus 33 children out of the country last month.
The eight Americans, six of whom are from Idaho, left Port-au-Prince on a U.S. Air Force C-130 cargo plane bound for Miami late Wednesday after spending nearly three weeks in a Haitian jail. Laura Silsby, the leader of the rescue mission, and her assistant, Charisa Coulter, remain in custody for additional questioning with the judge.
Clint Henry, pastor at Central Valley Baptist Church in Meridian, said the church, relatives and friends are excited and encouraged by the release of eight detainees.
"We will continue to pray for and work toward their release, believing that will come soon as well" Henry said of the two still being held in Haiti. "The families' deepest gratitude goes to countless people around the world who offered their support encouragement and prayers during this very difficult time.
The eight - looking bedraggled and sweat-soaked - walked out of the jail escorted by U.S. diplomats just after dusk. They waited until they were safely inside a white van before flashing smiles and giving a thumbs up to reporters.
Government officials said the eight freed Americans were expected to arrive in Miami late Wednesday.
"Obviously I'm very excited that my wife is coming home," said Eric Thompson, whose wife, Carla Thompson, is among the group leaving Haiti. "It's been difficult but at the same time God has lifted us up and kept us encouraged and helped us through this."
Earlier in the day, judge Bernard Saint-Vil told The Associated Press that eight of the 10 missionaries were free to leave without bail or other conditions after parents testified they voluntarily handed their children over to the missionaries.
The missionaries said they were on a humanitarian mission to rescue child quake victims by taking them to a hastily prepared orphanage in the Dominican Republic and have denied accusations of trafficking.
U.S. Sen. Jim Risch, R-Idaho, said the eight freed Americans were leaving without passports and personal belongings. Each former detainee would have to make their own travel arrangements back home.
Risch declined to talk about or speculate on the facts of the Haitian case against the missionaries or a pending release of Silsby and Coulter.
"We're going to have to maintain the same patience that we have had, maintain the same protocol that we have had" Risch told reporters outside the church in Meridian.
(Copyright 2010 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)