Meet Guesno, a father, husband, son, and pastor who lived in Port-au-Prince, Haiti. In the early 2000s, Guesno and his wife ran an orphanage in Haiti. Blessed with a family of their own, yet dedicated to serving others, they were planning to move all the children under their care at their orphanage to a new building, with plans to help them with their studies and schooling. Life was good.
But tragedy struck on December 6, 2009. The family was at church together and Guesno’s then almost three-year-old son Gardy was unusually glued to his father. He stayed with Guesno throughout all of their Sunday meetings, and then at the conclusion, Guesno put Gardy on the ground so that he could take his usual route to his mother. That was the last time Guesno ever saw his son.
Witnesses spotted a man take Gardy, lead him outside, put him onto the back of a motorcycle and drive away.
“One of the people behind the kidnapping knew him. That’s why it was so easy, SO easy, for him to take him away,” Guesno recounted. “It’s a person that we know, and the boy was used to him so he wouldn’t call out when he put him on the back of the motorcycle.”
Two hours later, Guesno received a phone call from the traffickers, demanding a ransom of $150,000 American dollars in exchange for Gardy. The desperate father knew there was no way he would ever be able to obtain the money, but he scrambled together what he could, which was only $4,000.
The kidnappers told Guesno to leave the money in a specific place and they would deliver the boy, but no one ever came to bring Guesno his son.
The traffickers involved in Gardy's abduction had no intention of returning him for ransom. Instead, they saw him as a valuable commodity to be sold or used for labor or sex slavery.
Guesno was frantically working with local authorities in search for Gardy, but just a month later a 7.0 magnitude earthquake struck Haiti, killing Guesno’s mother, sister, brother-in-law and one of his best friends. With the earthquake came an overload of people without homes, and children without parents. No one was prioritizing the search for a little boy kidnapped weeks ago. Gardy’s case was lost in the chaos and with it, much of Guesno’s hope.
“I accepted the casualties during the earthquake, I have seen it, I have lived it, it is a natural catastrophe, and I deal with it,” Guesno said, “But I cannot accept, I cannot deal with the kidnapping of my son. This case is unacceptable so I will not rest in peace without having an answer to what happened.”
Unable to sleep, Guesno spent most nights walking the streets of Port-au-Prince, praying and hoping to just hear his son cry so he could rush to save him.
Life at home was difficult. The family stayed close to each other and talked frequently, but Gardy’s brothers and sisters refused to even go into the yard for fear they would be kidnapped too, and any talk of their abducted sibling left everyone in tears. A piece of them was missing.
Back in the United States, Tim Ballard heard Guesno Mardy’s story on the news. Tim was a government agent and was well-accustomed to hearing difficult stories, but something about Guesno’s struck him and he couldn't stop thinking about it for weeks. Eventually, he knew he had to help.
Discovering that they had mutual connections, Tim flew Guesno out for an unofficial meeting to find out more about his story. It was during that meeting that Guesno asked him a question Tim would never forget.
“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?”
He then proceeded to recount the details of the case to Tim and by the end of his story, both men were fighting to hold back tears. Tim told him, “I will never stop, I promise, I will never stop until we find your son.”
Gardy was the only Mardy child born in the U.S., making him a U.S. citizen. In the two weeks that followed their meeting, Tim worked as hard as he could on Gardy’s case in his capacity with the government. However, even though Gardy was a U.S. citizen, the crime had been committed by local Haitians, so the investigation was under the jurisdiction of the Haitian police. Tim was told by his boss to stop working the case. Tim was devastated and soon found himself faced with an impossible choice.
Stay in his government position, or keep his promise to Guesno?
In 2013, Operation Underground Railroad was born and a team headed straight for Haiti.
When O.U.R.’s first Jump Team landed in Haiti, they first met with the Haitian police to start planning an operation. The man who witnesses had seen take Gardy at the church was named Carlos and he had been a former employee of Guesno’s. The ransom phone call Guesno had received was traced to Carlos’s phone, leading to his arrest. He denied everything, but the investigation of Carlos led to a connection with a woman named Yvrose, who was Carlos’ emergency contact and a member of Guesno’s church congregation.
There was no evidence to prove she may have had Gardy, but she did run an orphanage without a legitimate license. After this discovery, the Haitian police asked the O.U.R. team to go undercover into Yvrose’s “orphanage” and pretend to be interested in buying children. Once they had evidence to support their suspicions, the authorities could take the place down and hopefully find Gardy.
The team hadn’t been in the building more than ten minutes before they could see the horrible conditions the children were living in; there were teachers carrying whips and kids that appeared impoverished and in the early stages of starvation.
In their first meeting with Yvrose, she blatantly stated that any of the children in the facility were for sale. “$10,000 each, no questions asked. Please follow my advice on how to get the kids out of the country and evade the police,” she said.
The O.U.R. team returned to the police and confirmed that Yvrose had offered to sell the children illegally. Together, they quickly set up the next phase of the operation. The plan was to go into the facility undercover once again, complete a deal with Yvrose, and then, once she accepted the money, police would come in, arrest her, and rescue the children. It was called Operation Voodoo Doll, and it went off without a hitch.
The traffickers laid out their entire plan for the undercover operators, explaining how to evade the police and take the children undetected, assuring them it had worked in the past. Once the traffickers took the money, the local police crashed the scene, arresting the criminals and undercover operators to keep their cover.
But did it work? Was Gardy there? An hour later, Tim was notified that authorities had gone through every child in the building and Gardy was nowhere to be found. He must have already been sold.
When Tim met Gardy’s father after the operation, Guesno saw the news in Tim's face. He started to cry and asked, “They already sold him, didn’t they?” Tim nodded yes.
They sat together in sorrow for about 20 seconds before Guesno popped his head up, smiled, and slammed the table. Tim looked at him in confusion and Guesno said, “Tim, don’t you realize what just happened here? 28 kids have been rescued. You got the other kids out, right?”
“Yes, they are all out,” Tim responded.
Guesno beamed. “Don’t you realize that if Gardy had not been kidnapped, your team would never have come down here, and those kids would still be in captivity?”
And then Guesno said the most profound thing that anyone had ever said to Tim. “If I had to give up my son so that these 28 kids could be rescued, that is a burden I’m willing to bear the rest of my life.”
And Guesno meant it. The very next day he went down to the police station and told them “I will take any of those rescued kids home. If you can’t find their parents, I will be their father. My wife will be their mother. We will raise those kids who were just rescued in my son’s name.”
Guesno went home that day with 8 of those children. They call him dad now – they are his family.
Tim said of Guesno, “By being thrown down into the most desolate trenches of life, he learned how to turn that light on in the darkness. He heals by giving to others. This light is so powerful, it’s almost tangible.”
To this day, O.U.R. refuses to give up the search for Gardy. The investigation continues and Gardy’s story will forever inspire our mission. We go to the darkest places to bring light and protect even just one child. And we will not stop.