New Life Children's Refuge case

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The New Life Children's Refuge case was an incident of alleged kidnapping and the ensuing legal cases which occurred in the aftermath of the January 12th 2010 Haiti earthquake. On January 29, 2010, a group of ten American Baptist missionaries from Idaho attempted to cross the Haiti-Dominican Republic border with 33 Haitian children. The group, known as the New Life Children's Refuge,[1] did not have proper authorization for transporting the children and were arrested on kidnapping charges.[2][3] The missionaries denied any wrongdoing and claimed that they were rescuing orphans and leading them to a Dominican hotel which was being transformed into an orphanage. Nine of the ten missionaries were later released but NLCR founder Laura Silsby remained incarcerated in Haiti. By the time she went to trial on May 13 the charges had been reduced to "arranging irregular travel" and the prosecution sought a 6-month prison term.[4] On May 17, she was found guilty and sentenced to the time served in jail prior to the trial.[5]

New Life Children’s Refuge[edit]

The New Life Children's Refuge (NLCR) was founded in November 2009 by Laura Silsby and Charisa Coulter, who are both members of the Central Valley Baptist Church in Meridian, Idaho. The organization described itself as a "non‐profit Christian ministry dedicated to rescuing, loving and caring for orphaned, abandoned and impoverished Haitian and Dominican children, demonstrating God’s love and helping each child find healing, hope, joy and new life in Christ."[1][6] The charity claimed to be in the process of acquiring land to build an orphanage as well as a church and school in Magante on the Northern coast of the Dominican Republic.[1][6] NLCR further intended to provide adoption opportunities for American "loving Christian parents".[1] On January 12, 2010, Haiti was struck by a major earthquake and NLCR quickly formed the "Haitian Orphan Rescue Mission", a group of ten people from the Central Valley Baptist Church and the East Side Baptist Church in Twin Falls, Idaho. Both churches are affiliated with the Southern Baptist Convention. The mission's plan was to go to Haiti and bring a hundred orphans to Cabarete, Dominican Republic, where NLCR had leased a hotel to serve as a temporary orphanage.

Timeline of events[edit]

The ten missionaries, led by Silsby, flew to the Dominican Republic on January 22, chartered a bus, and arrived in Haiti on January 25.[7] American journalist Anne-Christine d'Adesky states that she met Silsby the day before the missionaries' entry into Haiti. The NLCR's leader explained that she had a letter from Dominican officials authorizing the transfer of orphans to the hotel in Cabarete. D'Adesky warned Silsby that she also required proper paperwork from Haitian authorities.[7] On January 26, the group gathered forty children and set off for the Dominican Republic. They were stopped by a policeman, who explained that their actions were illegal.[8][9] Undeterred the group set out to collect orphans from the devastated town of Calebasse (or Callabas) and from the slum of Le Citron in Port-au-Prince.[10][11] 33 children (20 from Calebasse and 13 from Le Citron) were put under the mission's care. On the night of January 29, the missionaries were arrested while trying to cross the Dominican border without proper authorization. They denied any wrongdoing and maintained that they were doing God's will by helping orphaned victims of the earthquake.[12] The children were sent to the SOS Children's Village orphanage in Croix-des-Bouquets, a suburb of Port-au-Prince, and it became clear that most (if not all) of them were not orphans.[13] NLCR missionaries maintained that they were told that the children were orphaned. In turn, people in Calebasse and SOS Children's Villages accused the missionaries of lying about their intentions.[10][13] Although the children's relatives were told that they would be able to visit them and eventually take them back, the NLCR's mission statement clearly outlined plans for adoption.[1][10]

On February 4, the ten Baptists were formally charged with criminal association and kidnapping for trying to smuggle 33 children out of Haiti.[14] In an interview, the United States Ambassador to Haiti Kenneth Merten, stated that the U.S. justice system would not interfere and added "the Haitian justice system will do what it has to do."[15] On February 5 former president of the United States Bill Clinton, who was appointed by the United Nations as relief coordinator for the earthquake, appealed for a swift end to the case to ease tensions between Haiti and the United States in the relief effort. [16] On February 17, eight of the ten members of the NLCR team were released by Haitian judge Bernard Saint-Vil. They were immediately flown back to Miami on a US Air Force transport plane. Laura Silsby-Gayler and Charisa Coulter were held over for more questioning.[17] On March 8 Coulter was also released, but Silsby remained incarcerated.[18][19][20] The charges against Silsby were eventually reduced from conspiracy and child abduction to "arranging irregular travel". Her trial began on May 13, and prosecutors asked for a 6-month prison sentence, arguing that Silsby was fully aware that she did not have proper authorization to take the children out of the country.[4] On May 17, she was found guilty and sentenced to the time served in jail prior to the trial.[5]

Laura Silsby - Gayler[edit]

Laura Silsby founded the New Life Children's Refuge and led the expedition in Haiti. Though she was freed after serving her sentence in Haiti, she also faced legal problems in Idaho.[21][22] In early March 2010, her attorney in these cases filed a motion to withdraw as her counsel.[23] Another lawyer who represented Silsby in a child custody case also withdrew as her attorney.[24]

Silsby faced civil lawsuits for fraud, wrongful termination and unpaid wages mostly related to Personal Shopper,[21][22][25] an Internet company that she founded in 1999 with James Hammons. Silsby and Hammons worked together at Hewlett-Packard.[26] Silsby became part of MYSTATE USA an emergency notification company headed by Claudia Bitner in 2011.[27] MYSTATE USA changed its name to Alertsense.[28] Alertsense has since started another company called Konexus because of bad press when its software was used to launch the only known live Nuclear Alert in Hawaii in 2018.[29] Silsby married and now goes by the name Laura Gayler or Laura Silsby Gayler.[30] Silsby Gayler has worked for Alertsense for the last 8 years and still works there under Von Hansen and Blake Hansen.[citation needed]

Jorge Puello[edit]

In the days following the group's initial arrest, Dominican Jorge Puello represented some of the detainees, falsely portraying himself as a lawyer. Caleb Stegall, an attorney representing Culberth, McMullin, and the Thompsons, stated, “My clients have never met Mr. Puello and know nothing about him.” Judge Saint-Vil said he had questioned Silsby about what connection she might have with Puello.[31] Puello later acknowledged that he is under investigation for sex trafficking in El Salvador and wanted in the United States for smuggling people across the Canada–US border. Puello was incarcerated for short terms in both Canada and the US.[32][33] He was arrested in the Dominican Republic on March 18, 2010.[34] On August 18, 2010, the Dominican Supreme Court authorized Puello's extradition to the United States where he was sentenced to 37 months of prison in June 2011.[35][36]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d e "NLCR's mission statement: New Life Children's Refuge Haitian Orphan Rescue Mission".
  2. ^ "U.S. missionaries charged with kidnapping in Haiti -". Retrieved 2017-09-13.
  3. ^ King, Shani M. (2012). "Owning Laura Silsby's Shame: How the Haitian Child Trafficking Scheme Embodies the Western Disregard for the Integrity of Poor Families" (PDF). Harvard Human Rights Journal. Harvard Law School. 25 (1): 1–47.
  4. ^ a b "Haiti prosecutors seek 6 months in prison for US woman who tried to remove kids after quake". Associated Press via FoxNews. 2010-05-13. Retrieved 16 May 2010.
  5. ^ a b "U.S. missionary convicted in Haiti, but free to go". Associated Press through USA Today. 2010-05-17. Retrieved 17 May 2010.
  6. ^ a b "Profile: New Life Children's Refuge". BBC News. 2010-02-05. Retrieved 12 May 2010.
  7. ^ a b d'Adesky, Anne-Christine (2010-02-24). "Special Report: Puello Says Other Dominicans Helped Silsby". Haiti Vox Bulletin. Archived from the original on 10 August 2010. Retrieved 12 May 2010.
  8. ^ "Dominican official: I warned U.S. church leader about Haitian kids". CNN. 2010-02-05. Retrieved 12 May 2010.
  9. ^ Vu, Michelle A. (2010-02-09). "Haitian Officer: U.S. Baptist Team Made Earlier Attempt to Take Children". The Christian Post. Retrieved 12 May 2010.
  10. ^ a b c "Parents: All Haitian 'orphans' had relatives". Associated Press (through NBC News). 2010-02-21. Retrieved 13 May 2010.
  11. ^ Basu, Moni (2010-02-03). "Haitian parent sent kids to orphanage for better life". CNN. Retrieved 12 May 2010.
  12. ^ New York Times, "Case Stokes Haiti’s Fear for Children, and Itself", Ginger Thompson, 1 February 2010 (accessed 11 May 2010)
  13. ^ a b "Haiti Orphans: URGENT Breaking news Baby and Child Traffickers Caught". SOS Children's Villages. 2010-01-30. Archived from the original on 5 February 2010. Retrieved 16 May 2010.
  14. ^ "U.S. missionaries charged with kidnapping in Haiti". CNN. 2010-02-05. Retrieved 13 May 2010.
  15. ^ "Attorney For Baptists In Haiti: Leader Is To Blame". CBS News. Retrieved 13 May 2010.[permanent dead link]
  16. ^ "Attorney Bill Clinton urges solution to Haiti 'kidnap' case". CBS News. Retrieved 23 October 2021.
  17. ^ New York Times, "Judge Releases Eight Americans Jailed in Haiti", Simon Romero, Marc Lacey, 17 February 2010 (accessed 18 February 2010)
  18. ^ Haiti: 10 American Missionaries Cleared of Kidnapping Charges Associated Press through April 26, 2010
  19. ^ "Boisean Charisa Coulter released Monday from Haitian jail; Laura Silsby remains". The Idaho Statesman. Retrieved 16 March 2010.
  20. ^ Lonzo Cook and Sara Sidner (2010-03-09). "Freed from Haiti, missionary returns 'with mixed emotions'". CNN. Retrieved 10 August 2011.{{cite news}}: CS1 maint: uses authors parameter (link)
  21. ^ a b Moeller, Katy (2010-04-02). "Haiti missionary leader left trail of financial woes in Idaho". from The Idaho Statesman. Retrieved 13 May 2010.
  22. ^ a b Bone, James (2010-02-06). "Baptist Laura Silsby who set off to 'rescue' orphans left behind debts and bad wages". The Sunday Times. Retrieved 10 August 2011.
  23. ^ Moeller, Katy (2010-03-03). "Attorney for Laura Silsby, Personal Shopper in civil suit files motion to withdraw as counsel". The Idaho Statesman. Retrieved 14 May 2010.
  24. ^ Moeller, Katy (2010-04-24). [Citation Needed "Another attorney quits working for Laura Silsby"]. Citation Needed. Retrieved 16 May 2010. {{cite news}}: Check |url= value (help)CS1 maint: url-status (link)
  25. ^ Boone, Rebecca (February 10, 2010). "Idaho woman faced financial woes before Haiti trip". U–T San Diego. Retrieved 13 December 2013.
  26. ^ Moeller, Katy (2010-02-13). "Grand ambitions: Laura Silsby has tackled life with faith in God and herself". The Idaho Statesman. Idaho Retrieved 21 May 2010.
  27. ^ Idaho Sec of State filing under MYSTATE USA 2012
  28. ^ Idaho Sec of State MYSTATEUSA filing 2015
  29. ^ Hawaii Advertiser March 2018
  30. ^ Nampa Press Tribune 2016
  31. ^ New York Times, "Trafficking Charges for Adviser to Jailed Americans in Haiti", Marc Lacey, Ian Urbina, 15 February 2010 (accessed 18 February 2010)
  32. ^ New York Times, "Trafficking Charges for Adviser to Jailed Americans in Haiti", Marc Lacey, Ian Urbina, 15 February 2010 (accessed 18 February 2010)
  33. ^ Penhaul, Karl (2010-02-15). "Legal adviser for Americans in Haiti facing his own charges". CNN. Retrieved 13 May 2010.
  34. ^ "Adviser to missionaries in Haiti kidnap case is arrested". CNN. 2010-03-19. Retrieved 14 May 2010.
  35. ^ "Dominican court allows US extradition of man who acted as lawyer for US missionaries in Haiti". Associated Press via the Waterloo Region Record. 2010-08-18. Retrieved 13 September 2010.
  36. ^ "Legal Advisor to Idaho-10 Gets 3-Year Sentence". The Haitian Sentinel. June 15, 2011. Archived from the original on 13 December 2013. Retrieved 9 December 2013.