Haiti judge frees 1 Baptist volunteer

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti (BP)--A Haiti judge freed one of two remaining Baptist volunteers Monday but kept the group's leader in jail pending further investigation.

Judge Bernard Saint-Vil allowed Charisa Coulter to be released, more than five weeks after she and nine others were arrested Jan. 29 for trying to take 33 children out of the earthquake-ravaged country to a makeshift orphanage in the Dominican Republic. They allegedly did not have the proper paperwork.

Saint-Vil kept the group's leader, Laura Silsby, in jail, Reuters and the Associated Press reported.

Both Silsby and Coulter are members of Central Valley Baptist Church in Meridian, Idaho. The other eight members of the group were released Feb. 18 and are back in the United States. Coulter, too, is scheduled to fly back to the U.S.

Asked by Reuters how she felt, Coulter said, "Bittersweet. I am glad to go back home but the experience has been very difficult."

Saint-Vil actually signed the order on Friday to release Coulter but court administrators could not find the proper stamp to make the release official, preventing her release until Monday, Reuters reported.

Saint-Vil now is looking into a new charge against Silsby that she "was trying to organize travel from Haiti for others without proper papers," which is "a lesser crime under Haitian law," Reuters said.

In addition to Coulter, the freed group members are Carla Thompson and Nicole and Corinna Lankford of Central Valley Baptist Church; Paul Thompson, his son Silas and Steve McMullen of Eastside Baptist Church in Twin Falls, Idaho; Jim Allen of Paramount Baptist Church in Amarillo, Texas; and Drew Culberth of Bethel Baptist Church in Topeka, Kan. Bethel Baptist is the only church not affiliated with the Southern Baptist Convention.


Compiled by Michael Foust, an assistant editor of Baptist Press.

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