By Oliver Ortega | Globe Correspondent | August 02, 2014.
A Harvard University health worker slain in Haiti last week shortly after landing at the capital city’s airport may have been the latest victim in a string of violent robberies targeting American travelers, authorities said.
Haitian leaders announced Friday that a coterie of police and government agencies, under the direction of the island nation’s prime minister, would work to tighten security at Toussaint Louverture International Airport in Port-au-Prince. It is a move, said Marjorie A. Brunache, Haiti’s general consul in Boston, that appears to have been spurred by the killing of Myriam Saint Germain, the 40-year-old Everett mother gunned down as she traveled from the airport to her coastal hometown.
A family spokesman said Saint Germain was stuck in traffic July 25 on her way to Les Cayes, her hometown in the south of Haiti, when men in a neighboring car asked her and a relative who was driving to hand over their money and valuables. After they complied, Saint Germain was shot in the chest, said the Rev. Guival Mercedat, the family spokesman, who said the account of the robbery and killing was provided by the uninjured relative.
Saint Germain’s body arrived in Boston on Friday, Mercedat said. A funeral is expected to be held Aug. 9 at Jubilee Christian Church in Mattapan.
In an advisory issued in June, the US Embassy in Port-au-Prince warned that travelers had reported being followed from the airport and robbed by armed bandits on motorcycles. In December, there were at least six cases of US citizens being robbed shortly after leaving the airport, a surge attributed to holiday travel, according to the embassy.
Warnings about travel to the Caribbean nation are likely to resonate with particular intensity in Greater Boston, which has the nation’s third-largest Haitian population.
On Friday, Saint Germain’s sister, Michaelle Saint Germain, recalled plans she and her sister had made to visit family in Haiti for Christmas. They harbored dreams, she said, of retiring in their native country. Saint Germain returned home each year, her sister said, bringing gifts and money for family and friends, and donations for the poor. “She was passionate about this,” the sister said.
Saint Germain emigrated from Haiti with her family when she was 16. She attended Fisher College for a few semesters but didn’t graduate. Instead, she studied to become a health aide at a technical school.
It was an occupation she held for the past 15 years, with the last five spent at Harvard, recording patients’ vital statistics and leading them to doctors, her sister said.
She had two sons, Elijah, 7, and Max, 11. In her free time, she volunteered at her church, Jubilee Christian, working mostly with children.
Saint Germain also took technology classes at the Harvard Bridge education and training program. Tamara Suttle, the program coordinator, said Saint Germain was a beloved member of the Harvard community.
Though she maintained ties to Haiti, Saint Germain also loved her adopted country, Mercedat said. She made sure to vote in local elections and to participate in community organizations, he said.
Family and relatives said they were surprised Saint Germain fell victim to armed robbery in Haiti. Michaelle Saint Germain said that neither she nor her sister had ever been attacked during their previous visits there. Jean Jacques, Saint Germain’s friend of 15 years, said his yearly trips were also uneventful.
Mercedat, a Christian minister in Everett who went to high school with Saint Germain, said security in Haiti had improved in recent years. But when violent crime happens, the minister said, the Haitian government tries to avoid publicizing it.
“It used to be worse, but from what I understand, it seems like the government is pushing to have people go back,” he said. “But when things happen, they try not to publish it.”
But Brunache, the general consul, said people sometimes wrongly perceive that Haiti is crime-ridden. The government has made strides in making the country safer, particularly for visitors of Haitian origin, she said.
“We need the diaspora,” she said. “They have family here and resources that are good to have.”
Oliver Ortega can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @ByOliverOrtega.