As told by Rex Byers, one of the survivors.
Edited by Jeff Bennington
On November 12, 2011, I went on a missionary trip with thirteen friends from my church to provide music, drama and testimony for a crusade held by a local church about thirty miles outside of Port Au Prince, Haiti. The work was done through an organization called Double Harvest. They provide a small medical center, ecological and humanitarian efforts to the people of this struggling nation.
Upon arrival, we had more work than we had planned. Due to a miscommunication, the stage that was supposed to be finished still needed a lot of work. We did not attend the church for services that Sunday morning, but set out to finish the canopy on the stage. The work was hard but we continued through the day, just in time to turn the stage over to the Haitians.
The next day, we completed the final touches on the platform, arranging lights and the sound system. We practiced our music and drama and had a great service with the Haitians. The days that followed consisted of an assortment of small and larger projects, including installing a tent to provide shelter for a local school.
We woke up early on Thursday (Nov. 17) to start another job and finished by 11:00 a.m. After an hour wait, we were driven back to our apartment. We were exhausted. Some took naps, and some just caught up on reading or playing cards. By the time the Crusade was ready to start that night, for some reason, we were all in a funk. We were tired from the previous day’s work as well as the work we accomplished that morning. When we stepped on stage, we found instruments in disarray; a different bass guitar and two guitars with broken strings, among other issues. But we put on our game faces and pushed through. We waited to hear Adrienne Petty’s testimony and then made an early exit to get back to our apartment.
Some of the team members took time to relax and debrief, while others were engrossed in a euchre tournament. The last group to go to bed was the card players. The rest of us were asleep by 11:15 or so.
What transpired next was the stuff movies are made of.
Bruce Donaldson, one of the veteran missionaries of the group, had been sleeping on the deck outside of our apartment to stay cool. The generator shuts off at 9:00 p.m., so there was no air conditioning or lighting. And when I say apartment, it’s really more of a commune. There are two quarters; one for the women and one for the men. These two wings run parallel and come together in two large living areas. The only thing separating the two areas is an open doorway. Bruce was asleep outside the men’s kitchen door.
At approximately 12:00 a.m., Bruce was wakened by the sound of men speaking Creole, a common Haitian language. He soon realized they were not friendly. They immediately began to bind his hands and fired a gun next to his ear, deafening and disorienting him. Fortunately, Bruce liked to sleep in the nude. As it turns out, this was a God thing because Haitian men are very macho and I think they had trouble subduing Bruce in his nakedness. Nuff said.
Anyway, they managed to lift Bruce up and press his face against the kitchen window, shinning flashlights in his eyes. We think they did this to get our attention. Their thought process must have been that we would take pity on Bruce, open the door, and let them all in.
Linda Herr was the first person to wake up and see Bruce in the window. She started for the door but then, in a God moment, realized she had no defense. She called for the others and each of the men slowly started waking up. Jason Braun, a member of our staff and Chris Herr (Linda’s husband) were the first to arrive on the scene. With what Jason describes as “Holy Ghost” strength, he opened the door, grabbed Bruce’s arm, and won the tug of war with the six gunmen.
But before Jason and Chris could get the door closed, the men outside inserted a crowbar, brick, and a broomstick between the door and the frame. At this point, Jason and Chris knew we had a serious problem on our hands, and the fight for our lives went into fill gear.
The gunmen shoved the door open, and our guys would push it back. The Haitians were relentless. They stuck the barrels of their guns through the crack in the door and started shooting. One of the bullets grazed Chris’s thumb, taking out a small chunk of skin. He started bleeding but refused to back away from the door.
When I heard the commotion I rushed out of bed. I met Linda who was following Bruce’s instructions to get knives. I took the knives from her and proceeded to slide them across the ceramic tile floor to the three men securing the door. Outside, the gunmen started to shoot through the windows, and the tempered glass shattered in a million pieces, tiny shards that we would crawl over for the duration of the attack.
With the windows shot out, the gunmen had a panoramic view of the kitchen. The window above the sink had two separate panes, roughly thirty inches by thirty inches.
About this time, a bullet hit Bruce in the forearm close to his elbow and exited just above his elbow. He was bleeding quite heavily and had to leave Chris and Jason.
Moments after Bruce was shot, he began singing the chorus, Our God. This had been one of the songs we had been playing each evening. Throughout the ordeal, Bruce kept his cool, gave the rest of us instructions and brought water to those who would receive more serious wounds.
Brad Downing, a younger man on the team, came to the door to help and then Jason and Brad realized they had to do more than just hold the door. They called for Morgan Young, one of our pastors, a pretty large dude, to take their place at the door. The rest of us were praying our faces off. And I’m not talking polite, politically correct prayers, but the life and death kind: “God save us. God intercede. God help us. Jesus we need you!"
The women were struggling to keep it together. Most of us thought it was only a matter of time before the door would open, or they’d come in through the windows, or they’d realize that there was another door not being attended only eight feet away on the women’s side.
I felt so confused because I usually think five steps ahead of what I’m working on. I found out later that in extreme cases of trauma, the brain releases chemicals that are like poisons and the brain stops processing like normal. I did, however, have the clarity to realize that the window above the kitchen sink had to be blocked. At that moment, I was positioned between the two kitchens when I realized I could maneuver the upright freezer away from the wall and push it in front of the sink to block their view.
After I moved the freezer forward, I made my way behind the refrigerator. Guns were still firing. The others were still praying, shouting and crying out to God. We felt defenseless. They had guns and all we could do was react. We had knives, but we couldn’t use them, and we couldn’t make them stop shooting.
That’s when I reached into the refrigerator and grabbed a couple 20 oz. glass bottles of Coke. I thought I could hurl them through the openings in the window when I saw their flashlights, but the attempt was futile.
During this time, Joel Larrison, our youth pastor was pinned down in his room. He stuck his head out of his door long enough to feel a bullet move through his hair. Monte Sanders, our music director, had been with Joel earlier but ran to the back room to protect Cole Braun, Jason’s son who had just turned thirteen. This is the hallway where the gunmen were shooting from the front window next to the door.
Meanwhile the ladies were hunkered down behind beds in the back bedroom. Adrienne Petty and Julie Baldini, another staff member, had emptied shelves out of a cabinet and climbed inside, making peace with God and audibly saying goodbye to their families. Shelia Miller, yet another staff member, was also praying, but later shared that she never gave up hope. Most of us did. Maggie Duncan and Linda were calling out to God as well.
These five women might have been our greatest defense. So many things were going on at the same time. While I was throwing coke bottles and moving the freezer, Jason and Brad had decided it was too high to jump out of their bedroom window for help. But in a moment of sheer adrenalin, Jason bolted out of the window, landing on partial gravel and grass. This was another miracle. The jump was roughly twenty-five feet. Fortunately, there was no permanent damage to Jason’s ankles or feet.
When Jason hit the ground he proceeded to scale two gates that were ten feet tall, cross a small creek-like moat, and sprinted another quarter of a mile to get to Arthur’s home. Arthur is the missionary that manages the complex.
I kept thinking that I needed to push the freezer closer to the sink. It was stuck on the ceramic tile so I pushed as hard as I could. It moved a little and seemed like it wanted to tip over so I gave up on that idea. But before I could get back to the refrigerator, I heard a loud “pop” and I felt my leg sting. I knew in that moment I had been shot. My adrenaline allowed me to take a couple of steps before I collapsed.
Fortunately, God had already put Brad on the back porch. When I collapsed, Brad immediately grabbed me and dragged me to the veranda. Brad didn’t know what his purpose was on the trip. He soon found out. He had spent a year in pre-med and knew exactly what to do. He knew where to apply pressure to stop the bleeding. He stayed with me through the rest of the ordeal, keeping me from bleeding out.
At this time, Morgan was still pushing against the door when a shot was fired. Morgan thought, “Why does my leg feel so hot?” He felt something running down his leg and yelled, “I’ve been shot. Shit, shit. I’ve been shot.“ Thankfully he realized it was not life threatening… but the door was. He faithfully stayed at his post.
Once Jason reached the house, it took a few minutes to awaken Arthur and Becky. Arthur grabbed two pistols and his friend, Jon P, who stayed at their home, and then the three men headed toward the gunmen.
Arthur and Jon P fired their weapons toward the gunmen in complete darkness. And it’s an eerie kind of darkness in third world countries. We’re used to dusk to dawn night light, traffic lights, or lights from another city. But in Haiti there is nothing of the sort.
The gunmen returned fire and then there was silence.
Brad was still holding my main artery so tight I thought that he was causing more pain than my wound. No matter how much I whined, he would not give up. Brad shouted to Jason, “Are the police here?" But the voice returning was not one that we recognized. The voice said; “Yes. The police are here."
Jason had crawled into a bean field next to the apartment to get closer and said, “No. They’re not here.” He didn’t recognize the voice either and thought that one of the gunmen was trying to fool us. Thankfully, the gunmen did leave.
Some of the team took Morgan to the back bedroom to care for his wound and Brad stayed with me. The police arrived within minutes and the trauma was over.
Four men were shot, but there were no broken bones, no arteries struck, and no one was brought home in a body bag.
Maggie Davis was one of the ladies on the trip who was in the back praying. She said she stopped counting after she heard 30 shots.
We’ll never know how many angels and miracles God deployed that night, shielding us, holding the door closed and directing bullets away. As far as my wound is concerned, the bullet entered the front of my thigh, went around my femur, and stopped just inside my skin in the direct center of the back of my thigh.
According to Arthur, the police usually show up hours after an incident, but for some reason, they were there within 10 minutes.
While the wounded went to the hospital, Brad called his boss who owns a nine-passenger Leer jet. Before I returned from the hospital I was told that the jet was on its way and we would be home that evening with our love ones.
I’m sure that the gunmen had to think to themselves, These idiots are bringing knives and coke bottles to a gun fight. But our Lord, our protector, was probably thinking, These idiots have brought guns to a God fight.
I asked the doctor to clean the slug that hit me because I wanted to take it with me. I’m having the slug encased in a gold Ferrell with a cross standing off of it. I plan to wear this around my neck in memory of what happened that night.
I remember reading that God commanded the Israelites stack stones at different times to commemorate crucial moments in their history. I intend to use the bullet as a conversation piece, to tell people how an impossible fight was won by the power of prayer and intercession. I want to use the bullet that could have killed me as a lesson to my grandchildren of how big their God is and why they can always trust in him. My bullet will always be my altar of remembrance, reminding me of the time when Heaven and hell met in Haiti.
~ Rex Byers