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U.S. aid worker released from Haiti jail

By the CNN Wire Staff
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U.S. aid worker freed in Haiti
  • Paul Waggoner had been held for 18 days in Port-au-Prince
  • He was jailed on suspicion of kidnapping a 15-month-old boy
  • Waggoner says boy's parents were trying to extort him
  • He says he wants to do more aid work in Haiti

(CNN) -- An American relief worker jailed in Haiti under suspicion of kidnapping a 15-month-old boy has been released, the man told CNN Wednesday.

"As soon as they said I was being released I was at first shocked and couldn't believe it because it was already dark and normally nothing happens after sun goes down around there," Paul Waggoner, who had been held since mid-December in Port-au-Prince, said in an interview.

Waggoner was being transported Wednesday to a safe location to receive medical attention, according to a statement from Materials Management Relief Corps, a group that he co-founded.

"Waggoner spent 18 harrowing days incarcerated in Haiti, accused of kidnapping a child despite undeniable evidence that the child in question had died at Haitian Community Hospital last February," the group said in a statement.

"No charges were brought against Waggoner... even though he was held in the notoriously dangerous penitentiary for two weeks," the statement said. Waggoner had been held in the National Penitentiary in Port-au-Prince.

Interviewed by phone from an undisclosed location on Wednesday, Waggoner said a judge had found "contradictions" in statements from the boy's father.

Aid worker freed from Haitian jail
  • Paul Waggoner
  • Haiti
  • Earthquakes

Waggoner said the boy's parents had been trying to extort him and that "it was a matter of a father and a mother trying to make a dime off of their kid."

A Haitian judge had concluded that sufficient evidence existed to hold Waggoner while investigators evaluated the father's complaint that the American kidnapped his critically-ill son from a hospital, according to Jon Piechowski, a spokesman for the U.S. Embassy in Haiti.

The Materials Management Relief Corps is a humanitarian organization that seeks to provide logistical support to medical workers in Haiti, where a major earthquake caused extensive damage in January. According to the group's website, Waggoner lives in Nantucket, Massachusetts.

Waggoner was working at the Haitian Community Hospital in Petionville in February when a Haitian man sought treatment for his 15-month-old son.

Accounts differ as to what happened next, but the father believes the child survived and that Waggoner kidnapped him, according to Piechowski.

Waggoner's supporters, including two physicians, have said the child died, and that his body was cremated because the father would not claim the remains.

Dr. Kenneth Adams, a volunteer physician on staff at the Haitian Community Hospital, said he was present when the child's father returned to see his son and "witnessed as the father looked at the baby for several minutes, waiting for the baby to breathe."

The man took pictures with the deceased baby before he left, Adams said.

The father filed a complaint against Waggoner in March. Piechowski said Waggoner left Haiti without answering the accusations and was arrested December 12 after returning to the country.

One account provided by supporters says the father handed Waggoner the child at the hospital. Another says Waggoner may have transported the child to the hospital.

Regardless, Waggoner had nothing to do with the child's care, according to his supporters.

"I was there through the whole thing, and what kills me is that Paul basically had nothing to do with the whole situation," said Jeff Quinlan, who said he was working as director of security at the hospital when the child arrived.

Quinlan said he told the father that the boy had died and instructed him to return within 24 hours to take the body. But he said the father instead returned with a "witch doctor" claiming the child was still alive.

Quinlan and Waggoner's organization said a doctor who treated the boy has signed an affidavit confirming that the child died, saying that the father had viewed the body and that he had declined to claim the remains because he did not have resources to bury the child.

Quinlan said earlier that he believed Haitian authorities were trying to extort money from Waggoner.

A friend of Waggoner's recently expressed concern that the relief worker would face danger upon being released.

"I think the biggest concern I've got for his safety once he's out of prison," said Paul Sebring, a fellow aid worker, "is that, you know, people surrounding this case may not be happy with the ruling that's happened and may come after him in some sense."

But Waggoner said Wednesday that he hopes to do more aid work in Haiti.

"I wouldn't say that anybody needs to have second thoughts about coming down here," he said. "If any aid workers want to do work in Haiti they should absolutely do it. The people here absolutely need it."

The United States was keeping close watch on the case, the State Department has said, but it was unclear whether officials were working for Waggoner's release.

"We have monitored his court appearances and continue to track the case closely," said P.J. Crowley, a spokesman for the State Department, said earlier this week.