From the perspective of O.U.R. FOunder Tim Ballard
I first learned about Gardy’s case in the news. As a government agent, I was used to the horrifying stories I saw regularly and did my best to push through them. But there was something about the picture I saw of Guesno Mardy that really struck me. He was pulling bodies out of the rubble of an earthquake.
Not long after Gardy’s kidnapping, the huge 2010 earthquake hit Haiti. Guesno lost his mom, sister, brother-in-law, and some of his best friends. I could never even write about something more devastating than what this man was facing.
Weeks went by and I couldn’t push his face out of my head. I kept thinking, I’ve got to find this guy, I’ve got to help him find his son.
I did some digging and found that we had mutual connections. I flew Guesno out for an unofficial meeting to learn more about his story.
I asked him, “What’s being done to find your son?” His answer came as a question I wasn’t expecting…I call it the “cruel question”.
“Do you have children?” he said.
“Yes I do,” I replied.
He continued, “Can you imagine going to bed at night knowing that one of your children’s beds is empty? And not knowing where that child is?”
I told Guesno that I could not fathom that situation, though my imagination evoked enough emotion to visualize the nightmare. I thanked God my kids were safe at home.
So he said, “Well to answer your question about what’s being done to find my son, I can tell you nothing has been done, except what I’m doing. Since I’m not sleeping, I walk the streets of Port-au-Prince. The dirtier, the more crime-ridden, the better. I walk the streets of Port-au-Prince praying and hoping that I will hear my son cry.”
Through his tears and my own, I told him that there had to be more we could do. I asked him to tell me about the case…what happened and what he knew. He told me the heart-wrenching story of his son’s kidnapping, detail by detail.
“I will never stop, I promise, I will never stop until we find your son,” I said, fighting to hold back the tears, and emotion seizing me.
Out of all the Mardy children, Gardy was the only one born in the U.S., so he was technically a U.S. citizen. For two weeks after our meeting, I tried as hard as I could to work on this case as a federal agent. Even though Gardy was a U.S. citizen, the crime was based in Haiti and was committed by local Haitians, so the investigation was under the jurisdiction of the Haitian police. My boss told me I had to stop working the case because it was outside the jurisdiction of the United States government. I knew he was right, and I would have told myself the same thing if roles were reversed, but that didn’t make it any easier. I was devastated.
If I stayed in my government position, my promise to Guesno was empty.
In 2013, Operation Underground Railroad was born and we headed straight for Haiti.