Two Hands Together Staff Shot and Killed

Jean Liphete Nelson

On March 5th at 7:30am a vehicle containing 5 Hands Together staff members was attacked 25 meters from our Becky DeWine high school by a gang from the Brae Neuf section of Cite Soleil. The gang shot and killed Alexander Marcus (who evaluated the schools and helped with discipline) and Nelson Jean Liphete who was Hands Together Directeur General. Robert Nelson, our director of schools, was wounded in both legs.  The other two staff members in the vehicle escaped unharmed.

The details surrounding the attack remain unclear and there are several versions on what happened and speculation on why -- and the incident is under investigation by the Haitian police. It is unclear whether the attack was a simple robbery (there have been many hold ups on that road in recent months) or if it was some kind of orchestrated plan to kill Nelson. What is common among all accounts is that everyone in the vehicle except Alexander exited the vehicle. Then, some sort of gunfight ensued and people ran away. Nelson did use his pistol in defense and shot at least 7 times.

In recent months, violence and theft has increased in Haiti and especially in Port-au-Prince. In fact, just 4 weeks ago, Robert Nelson was kidnapped and threatened. These horrific and despicable acts of violence, and the fallout and reactions to these killings and shootings, leave no doubt that it is unsafe at this time for our school children, teachers and staff. For this reason, we’ve suspended our outreach activities in Port-au-Prince until there is a more stable and secure environment.

Fr. Tom on the shootings and death of Alexander and Nelson:

"When I first came here to work full time in the fall of 1996, I would meet a young man named Alexander Marcus who was just filled with such optimism and joy. We would quickly become friends and he would give me so much advice about what to do and what not to do in Haiti. He would beg me to come with him to visit his family who lived in the slum called Cite Solei. I remember telling him that I heard that Cite Solei was very dangerous. He would laugh and tell me that he would protect me and that all the thieves and vagabonds knew him and they would protect me as well. I remember seeing the terrible poverty and misery which marked the life of Alexander and his family. I would meet his mother and his brothers and they were all so kind to me.  With Alexander at my side I would return to the slum almost every day and we would begin to search for a school that would give free schooling to the poorest of the poor. Alexander would become despite his youth the principal of our first school which we would call Saint Francis.

Nelson teaches at the high school

A year would pass by and Alexander and I would begin to look for another school that we could open in another part of the slum. We would call this school Saint Joseph.  It would be at this school and about this time that I would meet an extraordinary person named Nelson. He was a natural leader who would have a great love for the poor.

Nelson would become in so many ways my right arm. He would soon become the son that I never had. I would grow to love him and to respect him greatly.  Every day for over fifteen years I would sit with him and plan the day. He had great courage and had this wonderful love for the poor and the oppressed. We would do so much together. Both Doug Campbell and I would grow to depend upon Nelson. How much we enjoyed sitting with him and just joking and laughing with him!

I would be with him when he died and I remember sitting at the makeshift hospital in the slum for more than a half hour just weeping and crying. I remember praying that God would give me the strength to tell the thousand or more people gathered outside the gate of the hospital waiting to hear about Nelson. I remember dreading calling Doug Campbell because I knew the death of Nelson would devastate him.

Nelson’s death has been one of the most devastating events of my life. It is far more painful and disturbing than the earthquake of January 12, 2010. After the quake, there was a strong sense of solidarity as we joined together to make plans to rebuild and to recover.  We lost buildings but the heart and soul of Hands Together were intact. There was a positive feeling among us all. I remember how much I would lean on Nelson to provide the leadership so necessary for the recovery effort to be successful.  On a personal level, only the death of my own mother some sixteen years ago could compare to the grief that I am feeling now at the loss of Nelson, my friend, my son, my coworker.

When the director of the hospital told me that nelson had died, I found myself losing control as I wept and cried. I would sit for about a half hour before telling Robert.  He would put his arm around my neck as I helped him walk toward the main gate of the hospital where there were hundreds of people waiting.

It has been two weeks since Nelson and Alexander died . Their deaths are much more painful and much more disturbing than what happened at the earthquake. At the quake we lost almost all our buildings and it was tough. Now we lost something far greater and that is our very heart and our soul. When Nelson died and when Alexander died, Hands Together died as well. I really don’t know what our future holds here in Haiti and for the first time in my life I really don’t care. God help us! God , give peace to Nelson. Give peace to Alexander.

Doug Campbell on the shootings and death of Nelson and Alexander

Nelson builds the St Jane School

"I loved Nelson like a little brother. When Fr. Tom called me to tell me that Nelson, Alexander and Robert had been shot I was in the Boston airport on my way to Haiti. I collapsed on the floor and felt as if someone had punched me in the gut. Several hours later I would get a two word text from Fr. Tom – “Nelson dies.”

If one visits Hands Together’s projects in Port-au-Prince they will encounter the prolific results of Nelson’s life. Nelson was a force. He would work all day with overseeing Hands Together construction and programs and then take a 4 hour shift at the Radio station that he founded in Cite Soleil. One cannot enter into a school building or kitchen or office or playground and not encounter Nelson Jean Liphete.

I think Nelson shone most brightly after the horrible earthquake. He possessed and uncanny ability to organize and get things done, -- and in Haiti, nothing is easily accomplished. He organized many communities and was the driving force behind the feeding, rebuilding, water delivery and hundreds of other forms of charity and aid.

Nelson was remarkably bright and seemed to almost “attack life” with a super-charged intensity. He brought this force, this energy to Hands Together and helped us grow and serve tens of thousands of children and families.

Alexander was the first person to bring us to Cite Soleil and he helped us begin our first school and projects there. We had just re-hired him after several years of separation and he was helping us improve the discipline at our different campuses. He seemed so happy to be back working with us and eager to improve the schools. What a tragic loss to us and to his family.

Now we mourn and honor Nelson and Alexander and struggle to know where to go from here.  A core part of Hands Together has been ripped out of us and we are stalled. More than ever before, more than after the horrible earthquake, we need God to help us know where to go and what to do. Please pray for Hands Together."