'Love wins:' How a Nova Scotia town collaborated to protect kidnapped women in Africa
AMHERST, N.S. -- Simple signs with a pair of blue hearts capture a small town's sentiments over the rescue of two young Maritime women from kidnappers in Ghana.
A sign on the main street of Amherst, N.S., declares, "Love wins," and placards have appeared in windows saying "Love won."
Aaron Stubbert, the principal of Amherst Regional High School, said in an interview Thursday the message spread as the town celebrated the rescue of 20-year-old Bailey Chitty of Amherst, as well as 19-year-old Lauren Tilley of New Brunswick.
"We're happy and overjoyed and excited and glad it turned out the way it did," Stubbert said.
The University of New Brunswick students were returned to safety by Ghana's security forces Wednesday after a raid in the suburbs of Kumasi, the country's second-largest city.
Youth Challenge International, the non-profit group the women were volunteering with, has said Tilley and Chitty are receiving emotional and psychological support from professionals as they travel home.
Joe van Vulpen, deputy warden of Cumberland County, says the two-word offer of support went up at the public health centre on Amherst's main street where Bailey's mother Christina Chitty works.
He says it's a phrase that sums up how "love and hope and prayers came to fruition."
The mother didn't respond to requests for comment but her Facebook page expresses her gratitude.
She wrote: "My chosen family whom I have the honour of working with everyday have been my quiet rock (along with many others)."
She added: "Today we celebrate 'Love Wins."'
Van Vulpen, a distant relative, said many people in Amherst knew that the young women had been kidnapped, but there was a "silent campaign" to keep their names and the danger they faced away from social media.
The goal was to avoid giving any information to kidnapppers, he said.
Stubbert said if anyone posted good wishes regarding the young women on social media, others in the town would quickly contact them and they would remove the comment.
"I think we all had the idea that we were working behind the scenes to support the family," said the school administrator.
"I called it a little bit of a 'silent support' by staying off social media. ... It was all part of hope, hope that we could get her back."
"It seemed it worked out."
The principal said Chitty was a "top notch student" who was involved in many aspects of the school, had received scholarships and was in the school's band and choir group.
The logo of "Love won" has now spread from the original workplace of the mother and is "on placards and on little signs in windows," he said.
It was also placed on the podium of the school's award banquet on Wednesday night.
The Ghanaian government has said five Ghanaians and three Nigerians are now in custody in connection with the incident and more arrests are possible.
No ransom was discussed or paid in the case, and there's no indication yet of any affiliation between the kidnappers and any religious or political group, a government spokesman has said.
The family of Tilley, who is from Rothesay, N.B., was unavailable for comment.
Both of the women are studying at the Renaissance College campus of the University of New Brunswick.
- By Michael Tutton in Halifax