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Woman questioned over Haitian orphans
February 23, 2010 6:55 a.m. EST
Port-au-Prince, Haiti (CNN) -- Six Haitian orphans, at the airport and on their way to new lives in the United States, had their destination changed at the last moment. Now they are at an orphanage, under the custody of the Haitian government, while the details of their departure are sorted out.
Sarah Thacker, a Minnesota woman who was in Haiti to bring home her newly adopted son, now finds herself facing allegations that the paperwork she held was forged. Thacker and two other women who helped her were not arrested, but are the subject of the incident that follows the arrests of 10 U.S. missionaries accused of taking a group of Haitian children out of the country without the proper paperwork.
All 10 were charged with trying to take 33 children out of Haiti without any legal authorization after a magnitude-7.0 earthquake devastated the country on January 12. Eight of them have been released on bail and have returned to the United States.
Thacker and the two other women were going to escort six Haitian orphans to the United States to new families, including Thacker's adopted son, Reese.
"I can understand paranoia and absolutely, and I understand there was a story about people illegally taking children out of the country, but fear doesn't justify these actions," Stephanie Anderson, a volunteer who was helping Thacker, told CNN.
On Saturday, the three women were outside the Port-au-Prince airport waiting in line to transport the children in a private plane when, Anderson says, they were surrounded by an angry mob of men demanding to see their paperwork.
"They started screaming at us that they are Haitian children, and who do we think we are taking their kids from their country, and these missionaries can't be stealing kids, and they started swearing and yelling at us," Anderson, who is not a missionary, said.
The police were called in and the women were detained for eight hours, they told CNN.
Full coverage of the earthquake's aftermath
The key document -- a permission signed by Haiti's prime minister -- was suspected as a fake by police, something the women and U.S. officials deny.
There is no chance the paperwork is fake, Thacker said.
A representative from the U.S. Embassy was with them during their ordeal and, in the end, police did not arrest the women but decided that the children would at least be temporarily placed in government custody.
"I was scared. It was my job to protect those children and I didn't feel I could protect them when I was being harassed," said Maria O'Donovan, who lives in Haiti and works at the orphanage where Reese and the other five children lived.
CNN made attempts to reach the Haitian prime minister without success.
Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar is backing Thacker's efforts.
"They have filled out all the paperwork. This is a legitimate orphanage that has brought other children to America. And I feel like these little babies are just caught up in this international dispute, and it's just not fair," she said.