BOSTON (CBS) -- CBS News has confirmed that the FBI is on the ground assisting in hostage negotiations in Haiti. Sixteen American missionaries and family members and one Canadian were abducted just outside the capital city, including as many as five children. The gang kidnapped members of a group from Ohio affiliated with Christian Aid Ministries, which helps pay for school tuition, uniforms, textbooks, and meals for Haitians.
CBS News obtained a Whatsapp message from a person who claimed to have been in contact with the abducted group.
The message read in part: "Please pray for us we're harassed/kidnapped...They have control of our vehicle."
In a statement, the Ministry said: "We request urgent prayer for the group of Christian Aid Ministries workers who were abducted while on a trip to visit an orphanage."
Haiti has been in a state of upheaval for years, still reeling from a deadly earthquake and the assassination of its president earlier this summer.
According to one human rights group, there have been nearly 630 kidnappings in Haiti so far this year.
"The Haitian people are suffering terribly," said Len Gengel. He is the president of the Be Like Brit Foundation, a non-profit started in his memory of his daughter. She died in an earthquake during a service trip to Haiti. He visits Haiti once a month and says the violence and poverty have left many people desperate.
"There's lack of food, no fuel, just so many things that people can't understand in the United States because we're such an amazing land of abundance," said Gengel.
While kidnappings here are not new, the abduction of this large group of Americans is a sign that not only are the gangs growing more brazen, but they are feeling empowered as the country descends further into chaos.
"There is no functioning government and the gangs rule Port-Au-Prince in the country at large," said Gengel.
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