NASSAU, BAHAMAS — Close friends and relatives of would-be passengers on the twin-engine vessel that capsized near Blackbeard’s Cay were yesterday desperately searching for answers.
Samiya Johnson told Eyewitness News that Joseph Pierre had been living with her, and other friends and family for six months after traveling to The Bahamas by boat from Haiti.
She said the thirty-year-old man left the homestead late Saturday night and did not return.
Both names have been changed to protect their identity.
“He never stays out that late and always comes back for work the next day,” Johnson said.
Johnson said family and friends knew he had plans to “travel” with a group to the United States, but they did not know when.
She reached out to Eyewitness News hours after news broke 17 people had died in a possible smuggling operation.
Officials reported yesterday that 21 Haitian nationals were in custody, and Johnson was anxious to find out if Pierre was one of them.
“He moved in with us about six months ago,” she said. “He came from Haiti on a boat and was supposed to stay with another family but he stayed with us.”
Johnson explained the man did not have any tattoos or marks that could easily identify him.
“Please if you are able to see who is there, let us know, we just want to make sure that he is alive.”
Johnson said it was a common occurrence for her family to take in guests until they “moved on” adding that Pierre had talked briefly about “getting straight” in the United States.
Eyewitness News expressed to her that it was illegal to harbor foreign nationals, but she seemed to dismiss the notion.
“We have always been helping each other,” Johnson continued.
“We don’t see it that way. Things are so bad and they are looking for a better life, just like everyone else.”
She said she was unsure of “how the process worked” when pressed for details about Pierre’s trip and how much he paid to be smuggled out of the country.
“We knew that he knew some people over there and he was just doing what he had to,” she said.
“When he came over he was supposed to stay with another family, but due to lack of space he ended up here with my family.”
She added that Pierre was employed but could not say if he had a work permit or any other documents.
“He a job that is as much as I will say,” she said.
“We just want to find out if he is alive.”
Johnson later confirmed that she had received a photo of survivors who were taken into custody and believed that Pierre was among them.
“I just got a photo,” she said.
“It’s kinda dark, but I think we see him, I think that is him.”