Florida Couple Held for $400K Ransom In Haiti Finally Released After Nearly a Month, Eager to Return Home to Hold 2-Year-Old Son

After being held for ransom for almost a month in Haiti, an American couple was released Thursday following negotiations with their kidnappers, the couple’s relative told Atlanta Black Star.

Abigail and Jean-Dickens Toussaint, both 33, were kidnapped in the Port-Au-Prince area on March 18. The married couple was taken from a bus traveling from the airport to a festival in Léogâne, the Haitian Times reports.

US State Department officials had confirmed that they are working with Haitian authorities and “U.S. government interagency partners” to bring the couple home.

US Couple Kidnapped in Haiti
Abigail Toussaint and Jean-Dickens Toussaint were kidnapped in Haiti in the Port-Au-Prince area around March 18, 2023, according to relatives. (Photo: Change.org)

The married couple was detained by gangs that have taken over most of the nation’s capital city for almost a month. Jean-Dickens Toussaint’s niece, Christie Desmormes says she was growing “weary,” but she is now relieved and happy about the news.

A witness to the kidnapping told Voice of America members of the Grand Ravine/Ti Lapli gang first demanded $1,000 from the driver of the transport vehicle to pass the checkpoint about 7 miles south of Port-Au-Prince.

“He gave them $500 instead,” the witness said. “The men told him, ‘Hey, you know the price is $1,000, and you’re giving us just $500? Go park the bus.'”

The man who told Voice of America that he was also a passenger on the bus said the gang then noticed the luggage and demanded $1,000 from the passengers. They put their money together and came up with $700, but the gang members again demanded the full sum.

The group scraped together another $300, but gang members refused to accept it and ordered them back to the bus, the eyewitness said.

A black BMW then pulled up to the location, and a man inside demanded that the bus driver follow it.

“If the driver had done what he was supposed to do [pay the $1,000 up front], this may not have happened,” the eyewitness, who wanted to stay anonymous, told VOA.

Desormes told Atlanta Black Star she found out her uncle and his wife were taken after a relative of a friend who was traveling with the couple called her relatives in Florida. They were later connected directly to the kidnappers, who demanded $6,000.

However, they gave the money to someone they thought they could trust to complete the transaction. That person disappeared with the money. Now, the gang is demanding $200,000 per person.

Desmormes is worried but pointed out that authorities have been negotiating. She and her uncle Jean-Dickens were “pretty close.”

Because they are only 12 years apart, she remembered being confused as a child about whether he was her uncle or brother. They grew up in Coral Springs, Florida, a suburban city 20 miles northwest of Fort Lauderdale.

“He basically raised me. He taught me how to ride a bike. He would pick me up from school,” she said during a phone interview.

They remained close but from a distance after Desmormes’ move to the Maryland-Washington, D.C., area to attend college. The last time she saw Jean-Dickens was in February for his birthday.

Even though they didn’t see each other as much, they would often chat about movies and shows they were streaming.

She refers to their last communication as a “throwaway conversation.”

“It was a week before, and we were just asking about like logins for, like, streaming services and stuff and where he was supposed to find Peppa Pig for my baby cousin because he loves ‘Peppa Pig’,” she said. “But forgot where we were watching it — on Amazon Prime. And I remember I was gonna tell him that, like, ‘Ted Lasso’ was returning but I wasn’t sure if he was even caught up.”

The couple’s 2-year-old son is now in the care of Abigail’s parents in Florida.

Jean-Dickens and his wife had been married since 2018, but they had been together since the pair were in sixth grade. Desmormes said Abigail would style her hair for school when she was a child and has fond memories of her buying coloring books and paint. She wanted Desmormes and her brother to enjoy art as she did.

Desmormes has been speaking on behalf of the family since the kidnapping happened. She and her mother and other siblings constantly check in with their family in South Florida, which has a large population of Haitian Americans.

Despite the frequency of kidnappings on the island and the gangs reportedly taking over 60 percent of Port-Au-Prince, Desmormes said her uncle believed that he would be safe and did not express any concerns about the trip.

At least 389 kidnappings were reported in Haiti in the first quarter of the year, according to Haitian human rights group CARDH. That’s three times the amount of abductions recorded in the last three months of 2022.

Desmormes said since speaking out publicly, some of her friends have shared their own stories of family members being kidnapped by gangs.

“One friend, I know that she said that her family worked with the FBI, and it took about three weeks, so I’m just hoping this is the last week for us,” Desmormes told Atlanta Black Star on April 3.

Although CARDH representatives said they could not speak to comment on individual cases, they recommend when traveling to Haiti to stay away from the “red zones” or the Port-au-Prince metropolitan area and follow all instructions given by authorities and other officials.

Desormes told Local 10 the Toussaints were still in Haiti Thursday night but were eager to get back to Florida to reunite with their son.

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