PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti (AP) — The bullets began piercing the windows of the hospital as women cradling young children ran from room to room searching for a safe place to hide while the heavily armed gang drew closer.
As the sound of gunshots increased, the women’s screams grew louder until a hospital worker pleaded with them to be silent and instructed them to lie down. Mothers with infants and trembling hands hurriedly nursed their babies to keep them calm, uncertain if they would survive the assault on Fontaine Hospital Center and the neighboring area of Cite Soleil in Haiti.
A few hours passed and the sound of gunshots continued without pause. Suddenly, a staff member appeared and instructed them to quietly gather in the front yard. The police were already there with their armored vehicles.
“Hurry, hurry, hurry! Come on board quickly!” The employees exclaimed as women with children and infants boarded buses and private ambulances, which were being escorted out of Cite Soleil by officers. This was a rare success for the police department, which is lacking in staff and resources and facing tough competition from gangs. Some employees even joined the group of evacuees, carefully holding plastic containers that held newborns on oxygen.
The most recent gang assault occurred in a weak and impoverished neighborhood in the city of Port-au-Prince. This display of aggressive force and brutality further strains the struggling government, which had asked for urgent help from an international armed group over a year ago, but has not received it yet.
Hospital director and founder, Jose Ulysse, expressed his disappointment in the government’s failure to combat gang violence while also thanking the police for their efforts in rescuing lives on Wednesday.
He expressed his desire to reopen the hospital soon, as there is confusion over the reason for the attack. There are speculations that it may have been a display of power by gangs involved in a turf war, highlighting the lack of safety for anyone.
The attack that resulted in the hospital being evacuated and numerous homes being set on fire was attributed to the Brooklyn gang. Its leader is Gabriel Jean-Pierre, also known as “Ti Gabriel,” who leads the influential gang alliance G-Pep. This alliance is one of two rival factions in Haiti.
In the past, there have been numerous incidents of violence in Cite Soleil and other regions resulting in the deaths of many innocent civilians. Gangs have looted communities, committing acts of rape and murder within people’s homes. The United Nations reports that from July 1 to Sept. 30, there were a total of 1,230 deaths and 701 kidnappings in Haiti, which is more than double the number from the same time frame in the previous year.
Ulysse reported that there has been a rise in gang conflicts in Cite Soleil following the recent passing of Iskar Andrice, a former educator in math and physics who later gained notoriety as a gang leader.
According to Ulysse, in the recent confrontations in the large coastal slum prior to Wednesday’s assault, gangs were observed using boats to ambush and murder members of rival gangs.
According to him, as soon as the leader dies, others will attempt to gain power in the region. It is all about gaining control of more land and gaining financial profit.
Citizens are concerned that the ongoing clashes in Cite Soleil and other areas will continue to intensify as rival gangs struggle to take control in the absence of Andrice.
On Wednesday morning, Edline Pierre, a 26-year-old mother of three, remembers the shooting starting at dawn. She was at the Fontaine Hospital Center with her two youngest children, who were receiving treatment for diarrhea and malnutrition.
Later in the morning, the sound of gunfire drew nearer and she quickly hid under a bed with her two children. As the bullets hit the roof of the hospital and shattered the windows, she could hear people outside yelling, “God, please save me!”
She remembered that many people were shocked and scared.
After all was silent within the hospital, she overheard bickering outside among gangs debating whether or not to set fire to the building.
She recounted that if it weren’t for God, Wednesday could have been her final day alive on this earth. She remembered how the police were firing at gang members who were hiding in the bushes as they were being transported away in ambulances and buses.
Pierre, along with several others present at the hospital during the incident, is currently residing in a secure neighborhood at a private residence. She is uncertain about the well-being of her oldest child and her mother, who was looking after her, as their house was destroyed in the assault.
Marie-Marthe Pierre, a mother of four, shares the same worry. She was at the hospital with her baby who is 7 months old, and is currently unable to reach her family members who were taking care of her other children.
Projectiles were fired through the windows, striking the walls of the room where she sought refuge.
“She expressed that we were in a helpless and exposed position while being stuck. If the authorities had not arrived, I am unsure of what would have befallen us.”
A representative from the Haitian National Police did not respond to requests for comment.
The people who were interviewed spoke highly of the police and Ulysse, who used social media to ask for assistance when the facility was under siege.
Yolande Saint-Philippe, who was at the hospital with her 14-year-old daughter’s 2-year-old toddler, the result of a gang rape, referred to Ulysse as “a good man.”
She stated that he had the option to leave us behind, but instead he was able to relocate us to a secure location where both the child and I continue to receive nourishment. She mentioned that they are both suffering from malnutrition. Thankfully, God sent us someone who saved us.
All individuals were safely removed from the hospital except for a single individual: an infant delivered during the attack who passed away due to complications during birth caused by gunfire that hindered the medical team from assisting the mother.
Coto gave a report from San Juan, Puerto Rico.