The story was one of the truly “feel good” stories coming out of the earthquake that devastated Haiti nearly two years ago. Forty-one children from a Christian orphanage in Port-de-Paix were airlifted to loving U.S. families spread across 10 states.
What the adoptive parents didn’t realize is that many of them were bringing ticking time bombs into their homes–children so severely physically and sexually abused by those at the mission that they would require months, maybe years, of intense therapy. In the worse cases, some parents were putting their biological children at risk.
This past month two families that adopted 11 of these children filed a lawsuit against Global International Ministries, the Pensacola-based mission agency of which the orphanage is a part, for allegedly allowing the founder, Keith Lashbrook, and the staff of In the Father’s Hands Children’s Home to physically abuse and molest their adopted children and others at the mission.
LASHBROOK FAMILY MINISTRIES
The children had been under the care of Lashbrook Family Ministries (LFM), which has operated the orphanage, a church and school in Haiti for over 10 years. The mission had 118 children when the earthquake struck on Jan. 12, 2010.
Keith and Cindy Lashbrook, both 46, had been missionaries in Haiti since 1997, after they sold their day care business in Martinsville, Ind. His younger sister, Hanna, and her husband, Vance Cherry, a former county jail guard, joined them in 2007.
The mission was under the leadership of Globe International, which has trained and sent missionaries throughout the world for almost 30 years. On its website, the agency claims to have about 200 Globe missionaries that are directly or indirectly involved in ministries in 35 countries. Families seeking to adopt orphans and/or support Lashbrook wrote sponsorship checks to Globe for the care for children at the Port-de-Paix mission.
Prior to the earthquake, only five children from Lashbrook Family Ministries had actually made it to the United States. The 41 children airlifted out of the country had been adopted by American families, but still remained in Haiti because of government red tape. Some families had been waiting more than four years to bring their children home. They paid Lashbrook up to $7,000 for each adoption and were paying $100 to $200 a month for IFH to care for them.
The airlift was done under a humanitarian parole policy of the Department of Homeland Security that allowed orphaned children from Haiti to enter the United States temporarily on an individual basis to ensure that they received the care they needed.
Within two weeks after the earthquake, a group of adoptive parents flew to Haiti to rescue their children. Family, friends and local media tracked their efforts on Facebook and Twitter. By the end of February, all 41 children were in the states in their new homes.
In less than two months, the Haitian children began to talk.
BOYS KISSED BOYS
The Evans had taken their children to Pensacola Beach to enjoy the warm April sun. Playing in the sand with her boys, Milissa Evans asked E.E. (which is how he is identified in the lawsuit) about the mission.
“He speaks pretty good English, because he was around the missionaries more,” the mother told the IN.
“He told me how the older boys had girlfriends and how they kissed their girlfriends. He was laughing about it.”
She asked, “So what about you? Did you kiss the girls?”
“Oh, no,” said E.E., shaking his head, “…sometimes the boys kissed each other.”
“What? What are you talking about?”
E.E. said, “Sometimes the boys would kiss each other for more potée.” Potée is a pastry filled with potatoes, sometimes meat and other vegetables, which was a special treat for the orphans.
“What? They kissed each other for more potée?” Evans asked her son, trying to get more answers without letting him know how shocked she was.
“What about you? Did you kiss the boys for more potée?”
“Naa, I eat one potée and I’m done.”
“You didn’t kiss boys for more potée.”
“I don’t kiss boys.”
Evans believed E.E. wanted to talk about it. “I was a little uncomfortable talking because I didn’t know where the conversation would go.”
Then E.E. said, “Sometime they would do more.”
E.E. told her how the older boys molested the younger ones. He talked about how Vance Cherry, who supervised the boys’ home, regularly swam with them in the ocean across from the mission. Cherry and the older orphans made the smaller boys stand still in the water while they raped them from behind.
Evans called Natalie Lewis, a friend who had adopted seven Haitian children from Lashbrook’s ministry. Lewis had served for over four years as the stateside adoption coordinator for Lashbrook, helping families get the proper paperwork to adopt Haitian orphans, traveling with prospective parents to Port-de-Paix to visit the children and raising money for the mission.
“You know that gut feeling we’ve been having about Vance,” Evans said. She told the other mother what E.E. had said. Lewis talked to her children. They confirmed how Cherry and the older boys were molesting the younger children, some as young as two.
Both mothers contacted Lashbrook by phone and were shocked that he wasn’t as surprised or angry as they were, especially when they mentioned his brother-in-law. He told them that there had been a report of sexual abuse brought forth against Cherry in December 2009, but he thought it was all a misunderstanding.
Lashbrook told the mothers that he would check into it.
Meanwhile, the mothers talked more with their adopted children, who were hesitant at first to open up, but gradually began to share stories of rape, sodomy and beatings by Cherry and others at the mission.
The IN interviewed two of the boys, ages 12 and 9. Speaking in soft voices, their words halting and difficult, they described their lives at In the Father’s Hand (IFH).
“I was always the last one to take a shower,” remembered the youngest. He summed up his reason in one word: “Vance.”
The older friend chimed in: “Vance would also come into the boy’s rooms at the mission. He would go to their beds. He usually not come to my bed. I don’t want to be disrespectful, but I don’t do what he wants.”
As these and other stories came out in the spring of 2010, the mothers began to worry about the other families that had adopted children. Lewis asked Lashbrook if he had notified any families about the allegations against Cherry.
According to the mother, Lashbrook’s response was, “Honey, this is Haiti. If I had to get on the phone with every parent every time their kid did something in Haiti, I would never get anything done.”
He reportedly told her, “This is something that happens when you come out of voodoo.”
The IN contacted other families that had taken in children from IFH and heard similar stories of abuse. Some had problems with the children doing what the parents referred to as “acting out.”
“We started taking precautions, but we didn’t see very many signs,” said one mother. But when the couple left town for the weekend, leaving the boys and their two biological children—ages 3 and 2—with the grandparents, “the boys pinned our 3-year-old daughter down and touched her inappropriately.”
When confronted, the boys talked about being restrained similarly by older boys at the orphanage. They also said that they had been beaten with hangers. When the mother asked who had done those things, one boy said, “Everybody.”
Not satisfied with how Lashbrook was handling the reports, Evans filed a police complaint against Vance Cherry on April 12, 2010. The next day, Lashbrook sent all the parents an e-mail in which he claimed no knowledge of specific abuse, but acknowledged the accusations against his brother-in-law.
“I truly felt Pastor Andy (Andy Ciloes, the Haitian-born national director of Lashbrook Family Ministries) and I had dealt with this when accusations came to light last December,” wrote Lashbrook. “We met with the accused and talked with several of the children and, until this weekend, nothing else has been brought to either of us in the way of accusations of abuse of any of our children.”
He told the parents that he had reported the abuse to the Child Welfare Department in Haiti and had sought help in the U.S. “for guidance on the correct response to help the children and you, their families.”
The mothers told the IN that they suspect that he never notified the Haitian authorities. By the end of April 2010, Lashbrook quit taking the mothers’ calls.
GLOBE-HAITI TASK FORCE
The mothers went to Globe International for help. Doug Gehman, its president, wouldn’t meet with them, but he established a task force to review the situation. He assigned Sandy Carter-Britnell and Michael Collins to it.
The mothers met with them at Charity Chapel, the church where Collins is the pastor. Carter-Britnell has three orphanages in Nicaragua. She is Globe’s Coordinator of Humanitarian Aid. Collins is on the board of directors for Globe. They told the mothers why they were chosen for the task force.
Sandy and her husband, Timothy A. Carter, were missionaries in Nicaragua for over nine years. According to the mothers, Carter-Britnell said that she found her husband having sex with a 9-year-old girl in their home (she would later repeat this under oath in another court case). She never reported him to the U.S. authorities. Globe let her keep her ministry.
Pastor Collins had an even more bizarre explanation for him being on the task force, according to the mothers. He told the mothers about having a sexual experience, when he was 17, with an older woman who was good friends with his mother.
“He said he could relate to our children, because he was inappropriately touched,” said Lewis. “We’re thinking: you were a 17-year-old young man, and you think you can relate to what our children went through?”
On July 7, 2010, the mothers had a second meeting with the task force. Carter-Britnell had flown to Haiti. She said IFH was disorganized at best. There was no structure, no activities for the kids to do, no proper surveillance.
When the IN interviewed her in late January 2011, she described Haiti as a “terrifying experience.”
“It’s a dark, difficult place,” said Carter-Britnell, over the phone. “I’m 59 and have had my own orphanages in Nicaragua since 1998. I was not prepared for Haiti.”
She found the mission understaffed and without running water or electricity at night. While there, Carter-Britnell said that she didn’t see anything inappropriate. “I questioned everybody, even walked around at night shining a flashlight into the rooms of the home,” she said. “It was difficult to determine what’s true and what really happened. I do believe some of the children experienced abuse and there’s an element of truth to their stories.”
However, she didn’t believe there was any cover-up by Lashbrook. “The staff has signed affidavits that any stories of abuse were followed up on and turned over to Keith,” said Carter-Britnell.
On August 24, 2010, six months after the airlift, Gehman wrote to all of the families. He told the parents about the task force and the allegation of a “culture of abuse” that was allowed to exist at the mission.
“My main commentary about this allegation is that it is undoubtedly true,” wrote Gehman. And while he maintained that Globe had no direct knowledge of specific incidents, “it appears some of these things happened.”
Two American volunteers, he added, were being investigated by the FBI. “We did NOT (his emphasis) find that there was indifference to such things, or an attempt to cover up by the staff or Lashbrook.”
He made it clear that Globe’s association with the Lashbrook ministry was “solely defined on a casual basis…In the Father’s Hand Children’s Home is a Haitian ministry.”
According to Gehman, Globe had not managed documents, handled money or been associated with any children or families in the adoptive process. While Globe was sympathetic to the need of counseling for the children and families, “it is outside the scope of our means and our responsibility to provide this kind of aid.”
Finally, Gehman’s note termed the Lashbrooks “naïve” about how many children they could manage, but expressed that the parents should not pass judgment on them.
When the mothers asked for help with counseling for the children, Globe replied, according to the mothers, that the Lashbrooks signed a liability release form, taking responsibility for any expense related to the abuse in Haiti. If they wanted to have any help with counseling costs, they would have to ask Keith Lashbrook.
“It was just a request of a fellow Christian to a missionary organization that is supposed to have a heart for children,” said Evans, “from people who raised hundreds of thousands of dollars for them.”
MOTHERS TAKE ACTION
Frustrated by Globe’s inaction, the increasing number of stories of abuse and nothing being done about Cherry and the other alleged molesters, the mothers sent out in the fall of 2010 a packet to the sponsors of Lashbrook Family Ministries on what their children had shared and how Lashbrook and Globe had responded.
The packet impacted the flow of donations to Lashbrook Family Ministries.
Globe International responded Nov. 22, 2010 with an “URGENT: Update from Haiti” to the sponsors. Gehman stated that the Lashbrooks would be taking a “one-year furlough from management, operations and fund raising for In the Father’s Hand Children’s Home in Port-de-Paix.” Globe would become more involved and offer assistance in operations and management and take over fund raising needs of IFH.
Gehman wrote that the IFH needed “about $40,000 to get caught up, plus regular support for costs for caring for the children in coming months.” Globe had set a goal for sponsorships for all 100 children at the mission by June 2011 and needed $75,000 to complete construction of facilities at the mission.
He vaguely mentioned the problems with the adopted children. “Some of these children are still struggling with adjustments to their new life, and have health and trauma issues from their experiences in Haiti. As God provides, we would like to provide some assistance to the children and their families for these needs.” Gehman asked supporters to make out checks for this new “Adoptive Families Fund.”
To date, the mothers have heard anything from Globe about the new fund or received any checks from it.
Carter-Britnell told the IN that she had instituted several changes to the IFH operations. “I personally removed nine older boys from the mission. We rented a house for them, gave them a year’s worth of supplies and have them living as independent adults.”
Globe increased the Haitian staff and added adult interns, ages 25 to 30, and new, older missionaries to help operate the mission. A generator was installed to keep the security lights on through the night.
Carter-Britnell saw her role as setting the IFH on “the path of more excellence.” She said, “Globe International is a religious organization. We’re faith-based. What can’t be done through human love, God’s love does.”
Vance Cherry had finally been removed from the mission in March 2010, officially for run-ins with other volunteers, and moved back to Indiana. He and his wife have since divorced. IN attempted to contact Cherry several times earlier in the year, leaving voice and text messages on his cell phone. Although IN confirmed his cell number with family, Cherry initially tried to claim in a text message that the phone number wasn’t his and that the reporter was mistaken. Eventually he quit responding.
The IN did interview Hannah Cherry, who confirmed that a child had come forward with accusations of sexual abuse against her former husband and had named five others that he had molested. She said that her ex-husband had once told her that the only way she would leave Haiti was in a body bag.
Keith and Cindy Lashbrook announced in December 2010 that they were settling in the Pensacola area and asked their supporters for donations so that Keith could limit any work to a part-time position. “I would like to ask that, if you already regularly support Cindy and I as your missionaries, you would continue to do so through this year of our furlough.”
During Thanksgiving weekend of 2010, new allegations of sexual abuse surfaced, not against Cherry, but Keith Lashbrook. An adopted 8-year-old girl told her mother that Lashbrook had watched her go to the bathroom, covered her eyes and sexually assaulted her. The mother immediately filed a report that was handed over to the Florida Department of Children and Families
As part of this investigation, according to several mothers, their children were interviewed and examined in early January by physicians and counselors. On Friday, Jan. 21, state officials removed the Lashbrook’s two adopted Haitian children from their home, pending custody hearings. The children remain under the state’s care today.
The Lewis family has adopted two more children from the 2010 airlift because their new families couldn’t cope with the challenges. The bills for counseling and medical care—one child has lost hearing in one ear because of the alleged severe beatings at IFH—have continued to mount. Their insurance carrier is balking at paying the bills, which could be over $150,000 next year.
Four children from the airlift have been given over to their respective states for care, because the children’s anger issues and inappropriate sexual behavior put others in the households at risk.
The mothers have been talking with the FBI and ICE about their children and have been told there is an active investigation. IN contacted ICE. Its spokeswoman Barbara Gonzalez said, “We don’t ever confirm or deny an investigation.”
Frustrated with the lack of progress of the federal investigation, mounting health care costs and the indifference of Globe to their plights, the Evans and Lewis families filed a civil suit in Escambia County Circuit Court against Globe International for failing to properly hire, train and oversee Lashbrook and the staff and volunteers at IFH.
“The parents aren’t seeking anything for themselves,” said their attorney Brad Bradford of Aylstock, Witkin, Kreis & Overholtz. “This is being done on behalf of the children.”
“We want justice for our children,” said Natalie Lewis, when asked about why she filed the suit. “We have lost lifelong friends over this, because we dared to question the leadership of Keith and Globe. But right is right.”
Co-counsel Autumn Beck, with McDonald Fleming Moorhead, LLP has worked with the families since August 2010. “What these families have been subjected to is horrible,” she told the IN. “As a Christian, it is even more heartbreaking to me that the organization continues to raise money from well-meaning donors and churches and shirks their responsibility for the continued care and healing of the victims.”
Doug Gehman, Globe International president, told the IN that he couldn’t discuss the lawsuit with the media. “We’re consulting with an attorney about it,” he said over the phone. “Everything within me wants to say things, but I really can’t… Things just get convoluted when you start commenting.”
Gehman said Lashbrook no longer works for Globe, but the former missionary wasn’t fired. “He is on a leave,” the Globe president said. “Permanent, I guess you could call it.”
While the Lashbrooks are not actively working, Gehman said they were still technically on Globe’s payroll: “We have to pay them as part of IRS regulations.”
Globe International no longer lists Keith and Cindy Lashbrook as missionaries, but it does profile Lashbrook’s daughter Tiffany, and her husband Hermelin Jean-Baptiste, as Haitian missionaries, even though the couple has lived in North Carolina since 2007. On the website, the Jean-Baptisites solicit through Globe funds to support them and their “ministry.”
In regards to Vance Cherry, Gehman said that Lashbrooks’ former brother-in-law had nothing to do with Globe and it wasn’t responsible for him. He characterized Cherry as some random tourist with no connection to Globe.
“We had nothing to do with Vance,” said Gehman, before cutting the conversation short. “People visit Haiti all the time that aren’t part of us—it’s a free country.”
Globe’s attorney, Miner Harrell, said his client was innocent of the accusations.
“I never comment on matters of litigation,” Harrell said, “but I will make an exception in this case.”
The attorney said that because of the nature of the allegations, he felt the need to stress that they were “unproven” and false, and requested people reserve judgment until the appropriate time. Harrell did clarify that his client was Globe, and would not comment as to whether his claim of innocence extended to the Lashbrooks.
Harrell suggested a phone call to Milton-based attorney Ken Brooks—Lashbrook’s counsel. As of press time, that call has not been returned. (See note below)
Meanwhile, the mothers await their day in court as the second anniversary of the earthquake approaches. For Milissa Evans, their fight has been all about the children.
“We are so concerned about the safety of these children, both those in the states and those still in Haiti,” she said. “My hope in coming forward is that the people responsible for taking care of these children will step up and actually do their job.”
Editor’s Note: Lashbrook’s attorney, Ken Brooks, contacted the IN the day after the issue had gone to press.
He said that he is certain his client is innocent of accusations stemming from the Haitian orphanage the missionary oversaw.
“We’re about ready to file a defamation case,” said the Milton-based attorney.
Lashbrook has no suit filed against him. The suit is filed against Globe International, the mission agency of which Lashbrook Family Ministries was a part.
“They’re going after what they think are the deep pockets,” Brooks said. “There’s a lot of things a lot of people aren’t aware of.”
Brooks is also representing Lashbrook and his wife, Cindy Lashbrook, in the couple’s legal battle to regain custody of their adoptive children.
The attorney chalked the accusations up to lies and said it was about getting money, as opposed to helping the children. He said he will soon file a defamation suit against “several of the parents.”
“We see this a lot,” Brooks said, adding that the parents had an “axe to grind.” The attorney also said that he would soon “open some doors” and “let people know what truly happened.”
The Lashbrooks, the attorney argued, had been living in a “war zone” and were caring for kids that were abused before arriving at the orphanage. He said Lashbrook—along with both the Haitian and U.S. governments—had already looked into allegations concerning the facility.
“These people are not the monsters they’re being made out to be,” Brooks said.
Similar to Globe International, Brooks distanced his client from Vance Cherry.
“No, no, no,” Brooks said. “Vance Cherry’s a whole different ballgame.”
The attorney said the Lashbrooks were no longer in contact with “this Vance Cherry fellow.” Cherry and Keith Lashbrook’s sister, Hanna, divorced following his removal from the Haiti facility in 2010.
Brooks said as for his client—Lashbrook—he is sure all accusations will be proven false.
“To tell you the truth there’s not a lot of evidence out there that’s going to be found credible,” he said.
April 2010 Email from Keith Lashbrook to families that had adopted the children: April 13 KL email
August 2010 Letter from Doug Gehman to Adoptive parents: Aug 2010 Globe letter
Nov 2010 Letter from Globe International to IFH sponsors: Letter
Dec 2010 Letter from Keith Lashbrook to supporters: Lashbrook Dec 2010
Jan 2011 Update from Task Force: Jan 2011 Globe letter
Department of Children & Families letter: dcf letter
Keith & Cindy Lashbrook blog:http://keithncindy.blogspot.com/
Facebook page: http://www.facebook.com/group.php?gid=6006174106
Videos of mission http://wn.com/lashbrook_family_ministry
TV coverage of 2010 airlift: http://www.fox10tv.com/dpp/news/local_news/woman-to-rescue-40-orphans-from-haiti
Video of Vance Cherry: