Local family reunited after hostage ordeal.

December 21, 2021

Pictured, left to right, are son-in-law Monte Wadel, Veronica Wadel, Kimberly Noecker, Juanitta Noecker, Brandyn Noecker — hostage, Kasondra Noecker — hostage, Courtney Noecker — hostage, Shelden Noecker — hostage, Cheryl Noecker — hostage, Ray Noecker, Cherilyn Noecker — hostage and Michelle Noecker.

Local family reunited after hostage ordeal.

By Allison Scarbrough, Editor.

HART — Church leaders of the Hart Dunkard Brethren Church released the names of the Oceana County family held captive in Haiti by a violent gang during a two-month ordeal.

Cheryl Noecker and her five children — two of whom are adults — were among the 17 missionaries snatched, Oct. 16, said Worship Leader Carleton Horst. Cheryl and her youngest child, 6-year-old Shelden, were among three hostages released, Dec. 5. Brandyn, Kasondra, Courtney and Cherilyn were among the 12 hostages who escaped, Dec. 16. The Noecker family attends the Hart Dunkard Brethren Church.

“My family has been reunited in time to celebrate the birth of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ,” Pastor Ronald Marks stated as he read a statement from the father, Ray Noecker, during a press conference via Zoom video Tuesday afternoon, Dec. 21. Ray was also on the mission trip but was not kidnapped. He stayed back at the mission camp the day of the kidnapping to write a sermon for the next day’s service.

 “My family is all together and in good health. We are all rejoicing together over the many ways God answered the prayers of His people from all around the world. I want to thank everyone who joined together to pray for the protection and release of the hostages. Please continue to pray for those in Haiti and around the world who are still being held against their will. We are currently spending time together as a family in celebrating Jesus’ birth. When the hostages spent Thanksgiving Day together in captivity, it became their special prayer to be home in time for Christmas. Thank you, God, for your many gifts to us. Lord willing, we plan to return to our home in west Michigan before the end of this year.”

A community gathering to celebrate the return of the hostages is being planned for Jan. 2. The time and place have yet to be determined.

Marks and Horst did not provide specific details about the escape. “We are going to let them share that when they are ready,” said Horst. 

The local church leaders are not aware of any ongoing health issues that the family members are suffering from a result of the kidnapping. Sores that the hostages endured due to contaminated bathing water have since healed, they said.

Horst received a text Thursday, Dec. 16, from Ray Noecker that the remaining hostages were free. Horst and Marks said they haven’t talked to any of the hostages yet.

The remaining captive missionaries found freedom last week by making a daring overnight escape, walking 10 miles through briars and thorns with a baby and other children in tow, according officials from Ohio-based Christian Aid Ministries that sponsored the trip.

The group of 12 navigated in the moonlight to reach safety, officials said during a press conference Monday, Dec. 20. The details of their journey to safety came after the news Thursday, Dec. 16, that the missionaries were free.

A total of 17 people from the missionary group were abducted Oct. 16 shortly after visiting an orphanage in Croix-des-Bouquets. 

Their captors from the violent 400 Mawozo gang initially demanded $17 million in ransom. It is still unclear if any ransom was paid.

The dozen who fled last week carried the 10-month-old baby girl and a 3-year-old boy, wrapping the baby in blankets to protect her from the briars and brambles, said CAM spokesman Weston Showalter.

They escaped Wednesday, Dec. 15, during the night, after opening a blocked door. “Numerous guards were close by,” said Showalter. They packed their clothes with water and set off on their journey to freedom guided by the stars.

The 12 who escaped included a married couple, a baby, a 3-year-old, a 14-year-old girl, a 15-year-old boy, four single men and two single women. 

Marks and Horst did not provide specific ages of the Noecker children, but confirmed that Brandyn and Kasondra are under the age of 18, and Courtney and Cherilyn are age 18 or older. They confirmed that Shelden is 6 years old.

The captives walked about 10 miles through thickets, thorns, briars and “fierce brambles.” They were in gang territory the entire hike.  “After a number of hours of walking, day began to dawn and they eventually found someone who helped to make a phone call for help,” Showalter said, his voice trembling. “They were finally free.”

The 12 were flown to Florida on a US Coast Guard flight and later reunited with the five hostages who were released earlier. Two hostages from the 17-member group were released, Nov. 21.

After their abduction, they were crowded into a small 10-by-12 foot room in a house, but were moved around several times during their captivity. “They spent the first night almost sleepless,” said Showalter. 

They were not physically harmed by the kidnappers, he said. The main physical challenges included the heat, mosquitoes and contaminated water for bathing, which led some of them to develop “festering sores.” Sometimes the young children got sick. “All of them endured heat, mosquitoes and uncertainty. Sleeping conditions were tight in the barricaded house. Heat was an issue.”

However, CAM officials said everyone appears to have emerged from captivity in good health. “All of them are doing fairly well,” said Troyer. They appeared healthy and happy in the photos and videos of them after their release. 

“Our workers were not on a short-term mission trip,” said Showalter. “They went to Haiti knowing their work would involve risks.

“Our group was not the only group held, and they would sing with them or talk through the walls.” The hostages would sometimes share food and water with other captives.

Although the organization does not intend to abandon the people of Haiti due to the kidnapping, missionary work there will be “paused,” said Showalter. “There will be a pause no doubt.”

They were able to develop relationships with the kidnappers and spoke with the gang leader on several occasions. The guards enjoyed talking to the baby, Showalter said.

“There was intense spiritual warfare in that place,” Showalter read a statement from one of the hostages. “We heard voodoo drums at night and saw overt signs of satanic worship.”

They were threatened on multiple occasions, but none were physically hurt or abused by the kidnappers. 

CAM staff had conference calls with the hostages twice a day. 

The adults received small food portions, such as rice and beans for dinner, although the captors provided plenty of baby food for the small children, he said. “They received food each day, but were often hungry.” They also had access to clean drinking water, but it did not taste good and was not plentiful.

The hostages gathered multiple times during the day for prayer and song. They also encouraged the other hostages who were being held in separate kidnappings, Showalter said.

Over time, the hostages agreed to try to escape, and chose the night of Dec. 15 to flee.

“When they sensed the timing was right, they found a way to open the door that was closed and blocked, filed silently to the path they had chosen to follow, and quickly left the place they were held, despite the fact that numerous guards were close by,” Showalter said. 

CAM is supported and staffed by conservative Anabaptists, a range of Mennonite, Amish and related groups whose hallmarks include nonresistance to evil, plain dress and separation from mainstream society. 

“It’s already had the impact of bringing the community together,” said Marks after being asked what kind of impact the kidnapping has had on the local community. The pastor said he doesn’t think the ordeal will deter the family from doing missionary work in the future.

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