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Exclusive: US brokered gang talks to secure American missionaries’ bodies in Haiti | CNN

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The first US commercial flight to Haiti in months is making a bleak roundtrip Thursday, returning with the bodies of a young American couple who were killed by a gang in Port-au-Prince last week.

The remains of Davy and Natalie Lloyd will be accompanied by US Ambassador to Haiti Dennis Hankins and US security agents, according to a source with knowledge of the operation. They will be flown from Haiti to Miami, and onward to Kansas City.

Their return follows a week of extraordinary negotiation between the US government and Haitian authorities, local organizations and even gang leaders, sources say – all in a city crippled by the criminal groups that have shut off the import of vital humanitarian supplies, destroyed medical facilities and blocked key roads.

In a statement to CNN, a US State Department spokesperson confirmed that US officials in Haiti are “assisting, in line with the families’ wishes, with making arrangements to transport the deceased and personal effects back to the United States.”

“We will continue to work around the clock until the remains are returned back to the United States,” the spokesperson added.

This month’s reopening of Toussaint Louverture International Airport – a former target for coordinated gang attacks – marks an important step in connecting Haiti’s capital city to the rest of the world, after months of violence in the gang-ravaged Caribbean nation. Local carrier Sunrise resumed flights earlier in May.

But the progress has been overshadowed by last week’s killing of three missionaries – the Lloyds and Haitian mission director Jude Montis – in a high-profile incident that attracted the close attention of US officials and the White House.

The three were attacked in the early evening at the Missions in Haiti church and orphanage compound in Port-au-Prince’s Lizon neighborhood, in what began as an armed robbery by one gang that left their compound rampaged and their supplies and aid stolen.

A second gang later arrived on the scene and came under fire, precipitating a deadly retribution against mission staff, according to Davy Lloyd’s father and Missions in Haiti founder David Lloyd, who was on the phone with his son that evening.

Montis and the Lloyds barricaded themselves inside their residence on the compound, but it was not enough, Lloyd told CNN. Missions in Haiti announced their deaths that night.

In the frantic hours following the attack, staffers from the office of Missouri US Rep. Eric Burlison, Missouri US Sen. Josh Hawley and the US National Security Council reached out to the State Department and US Embassy in Haiti.

“As soon as I found out about the situation, we immediately reached out to the State Department to try and get assistance. Unfortunately, aid was not able to get there in time to prevent the tragedy,” Burlison said in a statement to CNN.

“Since their murder we’ve been working closely with Sen. Hawley’s office, State Department, and airlines to bring them home to their families,” he added. “I want to thank everyone who is helping in these efforts.”

Natalie Lloyd’s mother, Naomi Baker, is a staffer in Burlison’s office and her father, Ben Baker, is a state representative in Missouri.

US Ambassador to Haiti Dennis Hankins walks after Haiti’s transitional council ceremony, on the outskirts of Port-au-Prince, Haiti on April 25, 2024.

After the shock of the deaths, it became clear early on Friday morning that Davy and Natalie’s bodies needed to be recovered urgently – an operation that would be carefully orchestrated by the US government, according to multiple sources.

There was no time to spare.

“The bodies could have been either desecrated or kidnapped,” one person involved in the operation told CNN. “So we pulled them out of a crime scene.”

Private ambulance service HERO Client Rescue was tasked with retrieving the bodies on Friday morning even before Haitian authorities arrived at the scene. But HERO founder Stacy Librandi Bourne told CNN that her teams were racing to the reach the site when they were suddenly blocked in the road by armed gang members.

The standoff prompted an extraordinary intervention by US officials in Haiti, who quickly acted to broker negotiations between multiple gangs in the area to clear access to the bodies, a source with knowledge told CNN.

On a phone call with multiple gang leaders, Vitel’homme Innocent – a gang leader whose armed group Kraze Baryé was not involved in the attacks but controls an area around the US embassy – asserted a claim to the bodies of the two Americans.

“Following the call, I did everything possible to communicate with the people in control of the area, to get access to retrieve their bodies,” Innocent told CNN.

He added, “It was a sad story when I learned that a Haitian and two Americans who came to serve the population died in a terrible situation.”

Innocent himself is the subject of a $2 million bounty for alleged kidnappings of American citizens, which he disputes, saying he hopes to defend himself one day.

A funeral procession for mission director Judes Montis, killed by gangs alongside the two US missionary members, makes its way to the cemetery after his funeral ceremony in Port-au-Prince on Tuesday.

Emergency vehicles were soon allowed to continue onward to the charred site where they found the three bodies.

The remains of Davy, 23, and Natalie Lloyd, 21, were ultimately transferred to a local hospital morgue for safekeeping, according to HERO. Sources involved in the operation told CNN that inspection of the bodies revealed signs of blunt force trauma and severe burns on Davy, but no apparent bullet wounds.

To remove human remains from a crime scene is a significant breach of protocol, even in a city plagued by lawlessness. However, Haitian officials agreed to inspect the remains after they were relocated, a source told CNN.

Haiti’s National Police did not respond to CNN’s request for comment for this story, but in a statement last week, police spokesperson Gary Desrosiers told CNN that authorities would work with international law enforcement to investigate and prosecute the killings.

Eunide Majeur Montis, the wife of slain mission director Judes Montis, cries after attending his funeral service on May 28.

Missions in Haiti director Jude Montis, 45, was laid to rest in Port-au-Prince this week. Local press showed large crowds gathered outside the church where his funeral services were held, and a mournful band in the procession could later be seen following his hearse down the street.

But the bodies of the Lloyds have been waiting to travel back to Missouri until now.

Natalie’s father Ben Baker described the continuing hurdles to bring back his daughter and son-in-law on his Facebook page, in a message signed by Baker’s spokesperson Cassidy Anderson.

“Currently, we are working to retrieve the bodies of Natalie and Davy. We have to obtain a waiver that will allow their bodies to be transported without being fully embalmed due to the lack of facilities that provide that service in Haiti. After that, we have to find an airline that will be willing to do the transport. Prayers that this will all go smoothly,” it read.

The last remaining hospital in Port-au-Prince with the resources to perform the embalming would be the General Hospital near Champ de Mars, sources told CNN – but urban warfare between gangs and police have turned the iconic downtown park area into a volatile no-man’s land.

Waiting for news of the bodies’ safe return has strained the nerves of family and supporters with Hawley over the weekend releasing a public letter demanding that the Biden administration assure their security.

“Natalie and Davy’s bodies will need to be transported to the final point of departure, and until that time, there are major risks. The situation on the ground in Port-au-Prince remains anarchic,” he warned.

But Thursday morning, the bodies of Davy and Natalie Lloyd finally began their long journey home.

CNN’s AnneClaire Stapleton, Hande Atay Alam, Natalie Barr and Nikki Carvajal contributed to this report. 

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