A family member of James Solages, one of the two American citizens implicated in the assassination of Haitian President Jovenel Moïse, described Solages as a funny, hardworking, and family-loving man, and said that news of his alleged involvement in the attack came as a complete shock to the family.
“I’m seeing all of this on the news. I never thought anything like this would happen. I don’t even know what’s going on. All I know is from the news,” the relative, who did not want to be named citing privacy concerns, told The Daily Beast. “We’re all in shock and trying to figure out what’s going on.”
“It’s a lot to take in,” she added. “And it kind of hurts because we don’t know anything, and people think we do. It’s a complete shock to everybody…. we just see him on the news, on the floor. I’m just in shock, I don’t know what to believe anymore.”
The family member described Solages, who is 35 years old, as “a very nice guy.”
“He loves his family, he loves to work hard. He really loves his family. He was always laughing, always wanting to give back to the community. He wanted to go back home [to Haiti] to help. Again, this is a total shock. He was always working, always joking. I’m just really sad,” the relative added.
Both Solages and another American citizen, 55-year-old Joseph Vincent, have been arrested in connection with the assassination, and have reportedly said that they were not in the room when Moïse was killed and had only served as translators for the hit squad. The pair were brought before journalists at a press conference late Thursday when authorities presented 17 handcuffed suspects.
Clément Noël, a judge involved in the investigation, told The New York Times that the two U.S. citizens had alleged that the assassination had been under intense planning for a month.
The judge said the two men had described meeting with other members of the squad at a flashy hotel in a suburb of Port-au-Prince to devise plans for the attack but that the goal had not been to kill the president. Instead, they had intended to bring him to the national palace.
But those plans went awry when gunmen killed Moïse and the Americans were taken into custody after a shootout with police that resulted in the death of two Colombian suspects. The judge said the Americans learned that the president was dead as they approached his house, informed by their Colombian co-conspirators.
Vincent reportedly said that the mastermind behind the plot was a foreigner named “Mike” who spoke Spanish and English. Authorities have said that a majority of those arrested in connection with the assassination are Colombian and include retired military members.
Speaking with the Times, the judge said that two Americans weren’t injured in the attack, which left the president dead and his wife injured—but both possessed weapons, clothes, food, and items used in the assault when they were taken into custody.
Little is yet known about Solages or Vincent. It appears that Solages lived in South Florida and previously worked as a security guard at the Canadian Embassy in Haiti. According to the Associated Press, Canada’s foreign relations department said in a statement, without naming Solages directly, that one of the men detained had been “briefly employed” at its embassy by a private contractor as a “reserve bodyguard.”
Solages reportedly told the judge that he found the translation job for the hit squad in an online posting.
A Facebook account that appeared to be connected with Solages was shut down on Thursday. Solages was also a board president for the nonprofit FWA SA A JACMEL AVAN, INC., a charity devoted to the “growth and development of underprivileged people in Haiti,” as per a page on the NGO’s website, which was also taken down. According to a LinkedIn page under his name, Solages had attended a school in Florida and had “military police” listed as a skill.
“We’re trying to process. We’re seeing this on the news unfolding in front of our eyes like everyone else,” Solages’ relative said. “We’re all shocked. This is crazy.”