Antioch church members stranded in Niger during military coup escape to France

BySuzanne Phan KGO logo
Saturday, August 5, 2023
Antioch church members stranded in Niger escape to France
Members of an East Bay church are now safe after getting caught in a military coup while volunteering in the West African country of Niger.

ANTIOCH, Calif. (KGO) -- Members of an East Bay church are safe now after getting caught in a military coup while volunteering at bible schools in the West African country of Niger.

Nearly a dozen members of Antioch's Cornerstone Christian Center are safe in Paris.

Logan Heyer was overwhelmed with emotion Friday morning.

"My heart was in my throat. I shed so many sad tears, but today it was happy tears," Heyer said.

RELATED: 'Narrow opportunity' to restore democracy in Niger after attempted coup: US official

He was choked up, he was incredibly grateful, and he was utterly exhausted.

Heyer, principal of Cornerstone Christian School in Antioch, is also relieved to know that 15 church members are now safe. He says his prayers have been answered.

"The last six days has been no sleep, lots of prayers, and they've all been answered today," Heyer said.

Heyer's wife, daughter and father-in-law are among the 15 people who escaped by plane from Niger this Friday morning.

RELATED: Niger's military announces ousting of President Bazoum in apparent coup

He shared a photo of the church members at the airport before the dramatic events unfolded.

"They got to airport at 2 a.m. our time. So they've been there the whole time waiting and they said Niger wouldn't refuel that plane," Heyer said.

All this happened in the middle of a coup in the country.

"It was super scary," Heyer said. "Coups are a scary thing. I know they can change hour-by-hour, minute-by-minute. They are at the airport. They are identified as Americans now."

RELATED: Biden calls for immediate release of Niger's president amid apparent coup

The 15 church members include four from Florida and 11 from Cornerstone Christian Center and School in Antioch. They arrived in Niger on July 20.

"They were there to do their vacation bible schools. They did all that. It was awesome. There's 250 kids there. They were doing all kinds of opportunities of the day," Heyer said.

Then, a coup broke out six days ago.

"We saw that other countries were pulling out their people," Heyer said. "Senator Feinstein's office and Rep. John Garamendi have been in contact with us constantly."

The church members got to the airport and found out their plane had no fuel. Heyer said the two lawmakers and the State Department jumped into action and changed that.

MORE: 5 United Nations staffers among hundreds killed in Sudan conflict

"Man, I can't thank those two individuals enough for rescuing those people," Heyer said.

The church members from Antioch are all now in Paris.

No word how long they'll be there or exactly when they will return to the Bay Area.

This afternoon, Congressman John Garamendi issued a statement saying he's relieved that the community members are safe and on their way home.

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