American officials are working closely with Haitian authorities in order to secure the release 12 adults and 5 children who were kidnapped over the weekend by a notorious gang known for murders, kidnappings, and extortion.

According to police, the 400 Mawozo Gang in Ganthier snatched the group on Saturday. The community is located in the Croix-des-Bouquets region east of Port-au-Prince.

Local unions and other organizations staged a strike Monday in protest of Haiti’s worsening security, as authorities tried to release the 16 Americans and one Canadian from Ohio-based Christian Aid Ministries. Port-au-Prince’s streets and other cities were virtually empty, as the public transport drivers remained home. Schools and businesses also shut down to participate in the strike.

Holin Alexis, a motorbike taxi driver who joined in the strike, stated that “the population cannot take it anymore.”

Barricades of burning tires were used to close streets in the capital, as well as other cities such Les Cayes, in southern Haiti. Some people also threw rocks at cars that passed.

Marc Saint-Pierre was one of only a few moto-taxi drivers who zoomed through Port-au-Prince in search of customers. He claimed he was attacked because he worked on Monday, but that he had no choice.

“I have children and must bring food to my home today.”

The Western Hemisphere’s most poor nation is facing a new crisis. Gang-related kidnappings have increased since President Jovenel Moise was shot to death at his private residence July 7, and more than 2,200 people were killed by a magnitude 7.2 earthquake in August.

“Everyone is worried. They are kidnapping people from all classes,” Mehu changeux, president of Haiti’s Association of Owners and Drivers, stated to Magik9 radio station.

He stated that the work stoppage would continue up until the government can guarantee safety for all.

The missionaries were kidnapped just days after U.S. officials visited Haiti. They promised more resources to Haiti’s National Police, including $15 million to reduce gang violence. This year, thousands of Haitians have been forced into temporary shelters that are increasingly unsafe.

Sunday’s statement by the U.S. State Department stated that it is in regular contact and will continue to work with senior Haitian officials and interagency partners.

The agency stated that “The welfare and safety of U.S citizens abroad is one of our highest priorities” in a statement.

Christian Aid Ministries stated that the kidnapped group consisted of seven women, five men, and five children, one being a 2-year old. According to the organization, they were on a visit to an orphanage when they were kidnapped. The sign at the headquarters of the organization in Berlin, Ohio — which is the heart of Amish tourism — stated that it was closed because of the kidnapping situation.

Christian Aid Ministries released a statement saying, “Join us as we pray for those being held hostage by the kidnappers, their families, friends, and churches of those affected,” “As an organisation, we pledge this situation to God and trust that he will see it through.”

Christian Aid Ministries’ annual report last year stated that American staffers had returned home to Haiti following a nine-month absence due to “political unrest”. It also noted the “uncertainty” and “dificulties” that can arise from such instability.

A Haitian police wanted poster was issued for Wilson Joseph, the gang leader of the 400 Mawozo gang. He faces murder, attempted murder and theft charges. He is known as “Lanmo Sanjou”, which means “death does not know when it will come.”

Authorities say that ransom demands by gangs for ransoms range from just a few hundred dollars to over $1 million. Sometimes they even kill those they abduct.

According to a report by the United Nations Integrated Office Haiti, at least 328 kidnappings were reported in Haiti’s first eight months of 2021. This compares with a total 234 in 2020.

As they become more powerful, gangs are accused of kidnapping children, doctors, officers, and busloads upon passengers. A man claiming to be the leader 400 Mawozo claimed that it had kidnapped five priests, two nuns, and three family members of one priest that month. Later, they were released.