AS TOLD BY GARDY’S FATHER, GUESNO
The day before:
We had goals. We were planning on moving all the kids under our care to a new facility, a new building. We were hoping for a bright future in Haiti. I would be taking them to school, helping them with their studies. We were going to live our lives to the fullest.
Then, on December 6th, , I took my family to church as usual. What really stayed in my mind that I will never forget…for the very first time at church, Gardy would not let me go. He would not go to his mom. He would not go to anybody else. I spent the whole church meeting with him on my shoulder. Every time I tried to let him go he stayed close to me. I had to teach a lesson in a class and he stayed on my shoulder the whole time.
After church, I put him on the ground so he could walk to his mom. 10 minutes later my wife came to ask me for him. I said, “I just sent him to you!” This was the turning point. The biggest shock of my life. We started searching the area, going to the police department.
One of the people behind the kidnapping knew him. That’s why it was so easy, SO easy, for him to take him away. 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.
The police asked if we received any phone calls. At that point, I said no, I have not received any phone calls. The police said to wait two hours. If you do receive a phone call, we’ll know he’s been kidnapped. About two hours later, I received a call from a man that my son was at his hands and I have to give him $150,000 American dollars to get him back. I did not have the money.
I gathered $4,000 American dollars. The criminals asked us to place it somewhere. They told me to go to a station and they would leave the boy there. They never did.
There were a few suspects, one was Carlos. Carlos used to work for me, Gardy knew him well. He was the one that took Gardy. I treated everyone well, but you never know what is happening in the minds of criminals. It was his number that someone called from for the ransom. The police picked Carlos up and he said he knew nothing about it and that his phone was lost, which was a lie. So they put him in jail. He didn’t confess and said he knew nothing about it. He eventually mentioned the name of one guy as an accomplice and he was arrested. They still have not spoken.
Our other kids would not even go in the yard of our house, fearing they would be kidnapped as well. We felt a part of us missing. I wouldn’t sleep at night at home. As a family we loved one another and supported one another. We have tough moments. We stay close to each other and talk frequently. But when we talk about their brother Gardy, it’s just tears.
I was with my wife in our office downtown Port Au Prince, working on the investigation, working on the search for Gardy, and by 4pm the earthquake happened.
My office collapsed and we got my wife out a few hours later. She was under debris. But it was a trauma to her, she wouldn’t sleep under a roof.
So you can imagine after that happened, when you, a father with a kidnapped son, goes to the authorities, they were too busy you know doing other things to think about my kidnapped son. No legal services were available, every family had to manage to do their own thing, to do their own funerals for their loved ones. I lost [my mom], my sister, my brother-in-law, and a close friend that was helping me find Gardy. We managed to have a coffin, you know, something to pack them in, and we just dug a hole.
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. 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.
You know, even the scenario of the earthquake, I think about it and cry asking, “Where was [Gardy] at the time? What happened?” And we cried about it, knowing we should be there protecting him and caring for him. That’s the hardest part. It’s something really hard to bear.
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.
the O.U.R Founder had assembled O.U.R.’s first Jump Team, and they were ready to hit the ground running in Haiti to find Gardy. When they arrived, they first met with the Haitian police to start planning the operation.
Witnesses said they saw Carlos, Guesno’s former employee, kidnap Gardy on the back of his motorcycle after church. A few hours after the kidnapping, Guesno received a ransom call from Carlos’s phone number, leading to Carlos’s arrest. He lied and said he was not a part of it; his phone was lost.
Another player came into the picture when they started looking at Carlos’s jail paperwork. His emergency contact was not his wife or family, but a woman named Yvrose, who he had no immediate ties to. He had also made a phone call to Yvrose from jail. The judge found this suspicious, but had no evidence against Yvrose, so he arranged a meeting with her. During the meeting, she immediately jumped to the defense of Carlos and said that he should be released from jail. Upon another invitation to meet, she declined. The judge still had no evidence against her, but was left very suspicious.
Yvrose was a part of Guesno’s church congregation. They were friends, but not very close. After Gardy’s kidnapping, she suddenly started showing up everywhere asking questions: How are you going to raise money for the ransom? What is going on in the investigation? Once the police started asking her questions, she disappeared and stopped coming to church.
Yvrose was connected to the case, but nothing proved that she may have Gardy. She did, however, run an orphanage without a legitimate license.
There were two questions that needed to be answered: Was this woman capable of selling children out the back door for profit? And, was Gardy behind her doors?
Operation Voodoo Doll, as told by O.U.R. Founder
The Haitian police asked me and my operators to go undercover into Yvrose’s suspected “orphanage” and pretend to be interested in buying children. The police told us that if they were, in fact, selling kids, to purchase them. Once we had enough evidence, they would be able to take this place down and hopefully find Gardy inside.
Within ten minutes of entering the facility, we witnessed the brutal conditions these kids were living in. I saw a guy carrying a whip right when we walked in. They called him the “teacher”. Almost all of the kids appeared impoverished and in the early stages of starvation.
Yvrose, the woman who directed this atrocity, stated clearly at our first meeting that their business didn’t run like a normal orphanage. “You know you can’t adopt kids here right? We sell kids,” she blatantly said to us. “You can buy any kid. They’re $10,000 each, no questions asked. Please follow my advice on how to get the kids out of the country and evade the police.”
These kids weren’t documented. There was no evidence that they even existed, there was no legal process by which she got them, she just gathered them. Especially after the 2010 earthquake, many kids were left abandoned with no home to return to. Well-intentioned people took many of these abandoned kids to local “orphanages” like this one, thinking it was safe. The scenario often goes something like this: A smiling, happy woman greets them at the front to take the kids in. Then, the door shuts, and they sell the kids out the back door to traffickers. This is a technique that criminals use all over the world.
So, we went back to the police and confirmed that Yvrose offered to sell us kids illegally. We worked with the police to set up the next stage of the operation: go in again, undercover, to complete the deal with Yvrose. Once she accepted the money, the police would come in and arrest her and rescue the children before they were sold into slavery.
We hadn’t seen Gardy in our inital meeting with Yvrose, but we prayed we would catch a glimpse of him upon our return.
As told by O.U.R. Founder
It was the day of Operation Voodoo Doll. As we walked into Yvrose’s illicit orphanage, I scanned every face for Gardy and couldn’t identify him. There were 28 kids in this orphanage.
While my other operators were negotiating with the bad guys about the deal, I went to go explore the other buildings to see if there were more kids. I picked up a little boy and got him to point inside the place as a cover for exploring each room. Behind me, I heard the footsteps of another child.
I turned around and saw a little girl. She stood terrified. I gave her a candy bar to distract her from drawing attention to us as I continued to investigate. This frightened little girl, without taking her eyes off of the little boy, broke the candy bar in half (like muscle memory) and handed it to him. I watched, wondering…What is going on?
And then it hit me.
What am I doing? They are brother and sister! How many Americans come into this monstrous place and pluck up a kid that then disappears and never resurfaces? And now I’m doing that to probably the only person in this world she loves and who loves her back.
I made a snap decision that we were not going to separate these kids even for the short duration of the sting operation, so we told Yvrose that we were going to buy both kids. We got into the van and drove over to the hotel to complete the deal. Little did she know it was also going to be the place of her arrest.
We put the kids out with someone out on the balcony to eat a snack while we exchanged money.
As we completed the deal, these traffickers laid out the whole plan for us, explaining how to evade the police, assuring us it had worked in the past. Everything went smoothly – they took the money, the Haitian police came in and arrested the traffickers (my team was also arrested to keep our cover), and the operation was complete.
I couldn’t stop thinking about Gardy – we weren’t able to identify him before we left. I called constantly to see if they had found him. About an hour later, I was told they had gone through every kid and Gardy wasn’t there. Yvrose must have already sold him.
As told by O.U.R. Founder
During the sting operation, Guesno sat in another hotel lobby waiting for us to finish. We had every hope that his son was going to be there. Once we got the kids secure in the police station, I drove over to the hotel with dread in my heart. I had to tell him. Right when I walked into the hotel, our eyes met and he knew instantly. I couldn’t hide the emotion on my face. I sat down. I was unable to speak.
He started to cry and asked, “They already sold him didn’t they?” I didn’t look him in the face. I stared at the floor instead and just nodded yes. We sat there in sorrow for about 20 seconds, and then he popped his head up and slammed the table. Startled, I looked up quickly. He was smiling. I saw the brightness in his eyes, the same warm glow that I remembered when we first met. I sat back and just looked at him. He sensed my confusion and shared, “Tim don’t you realize what just happened? 28 kids have been rescued. You got the other kids out, right?”
“Yes, they are all out,” I said slowly, waiting to understand.
He continued excitedly, “Don’t you realize that if Gardy had not been kidnapped, your team would have never come down here, and those kids would still be in captivity?”
“I guess I never thought of it that way,” I replied, bewildered and in awe of his attitude.
What he said to me next is perhaps the most profound thing that any human being has ever said to me. Guesno stated, bravely, “If I have to give up my son so that these 28 kids can be rescued, that is a burden I’m willing to bear the rest of my life.”
To prove that he believed in what he said, the next day Guesno 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.”
He went home with 8 of those kids. I still see those kids all the time. They call him dad. They are his family now.
That’s when it hit me all at once. 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.
“Apparently, I wasn’t done learning this lesson after the operation. When it was over, I was a mess. I was running on three hours of sleep, and I still couldn’t find the relief of slumber. Bittersweet thoughts raced through my mind…I am so happy we rescued these 28 kids, but Gardy is still missing. How does Guesno do it? What happened to that brother and sister?
The thought of those two siblings from the operation kept me up into the late hours most of all. I had felt this bond with them, and I couldn’t move past it. (See part 6.)
As I laid in the Port-Au-Prince hotel room, I prayed for these emotions to be taken away. If we were to get attached to every kid we help, we would never be able to move on. This process usually worked in the past, but the opposite started happening. The more I prayed, the more I saw the kids. The more I saw them with me in the van on the way to the hotel, the more I saw them in the orphanage. I envisioned them in memories I didn’t have. I didn’t know what it all meant.
I decided to call my wife, Katherine, for help. It was two in the morning when I began telling her the story about Guesno. “You won’t believe this guy! I’ve never seen anything like him, if we made a movie about him, no one would believe it. They would say it’s too far fetched. No one would do this!”
“I want to be like him,” I told her.
Her response surprised me. “You want to adopt those kids!” she said.
Now, that was not what I was thinking. That idea hadn’t even touched my mind, so I said no! We had six kids at the time, and I travel for work a lot, so I would never suggest that. But my wife Katherine felt it, she knew we needed to do it. She reassured me, “I don’t need to come down there. But you do need to go start the paperwork and bring those kids home.”
Four years later, Colin and Coline Ballard came home and joined our Ballard family for good.
So this is the important, life-changing principle I learned, the incredible secret of resilience, taught by Guesno and my wife. If we turn to service and forgiveness in the darkest moments of our lives, we can turn the lights on in the darkness. We can have that light that Guesno has. We can heal.