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Local family fights to return Khalil "Niko" Mohamed Atteya to U.S.

August 09, 2011|By ROXANN MILLER | roxann.miller@herald-mail.com
  • Khalil Mohamed Atteya, known by his family as Niko, was separated from his mother and aunt while visiting his father in Egypt.
Submitted photo

CHAMBERSBURG, Pa. — What began as the vacation of a lifetime for a Fayetteville, Pa., boy has turned into a nightmare for his family.

Khalil Mohamed Atteya, known by his family as Niko, was thrilled at the thought of seeing the pyramids in Egypt with his mother, Kalliopi Atteya, and aunt Maria Panagos.

Police said Niko, his mother and aunt arrived July 30 at the Cairo airport.

Shortly after arriving in the country, Niko, 11, was separated from his mother and aunt, and he hasn't been seen since.

"This was a child abducted in a foreign county while on vacation with his mother. I find it incomprehensible," said Niko's uncle Perry Panagos of Fayetteville.

"It's gut-wrenching," said Niko's aunt Olga Panagos of Fayetteville.

"I think he's really going through a lot of stuff. I think he's probably crying every night. He just doesn't know what to do — he's scared," Perry Panagos said.

The Broadway Deli in Chambersburg, Pa., owned by Perry and Olga Panagos, has become somewhat of a command post in the quest to find Niko.

In the restaurant, several cellphones were strewn on the dining room table Tuesday, while another cellphone was being charged, as Olga jotted another name in her notebook containing an ever-growing list of government contacts.

"We've been in contact with basically every agency," Perry Panagos said, adding that the notebook was necessary in order to stay organized in the search for Niko.

Olga said the family even wrote letters to President Obama.

"This is a very serious matter to our family, and to the safety and well-being of our kid. This is a realistic kidnapping. Someone took Niko out of his environment and away from everything he knows," Perry Panagos said.

Niko recently completed fifth grade at Guilford Hills Elementary School, and is to begin sixth grade at Chambersburg Area Middle School-North later this month. Perry Panagos said his nephew is a typical boy who likes motocross bikes, playing basketball and video games.

Police are working with the U.S. State Department to find Niko, who went with his mother and aunt to visit his father, Mohamed Atteya, an Egyptian resident.

His father allegedly asked for the boy to visit his ailing grandmother in Egypt and attend his aunt's wedding, police said in a release.

On Aug. 1, a driver was transporting the boy's father and the group when he pulled over for what he claimed was car trouble, police said.

Pennsylvania State Police said Niko remained in the car while the others got out of it. The father got back into the car, followed by Niko's mother.

"As the victim's mother (got) back into the car, her ex-husband shoved her back out and ordered the driver to go, leaving the victim's mother and her sister along the road. They have not seen the victim since," police said.

Niko has been entered into the National Crime Information Center as a missing person, the Panagoses said.

"No one has seen him or heard from him," Olga Panagos said. "No one knows how he is doing. For all we know, he could be sick. He could be locked up in a room. He could be chained up. We have no idea what's happening to him."

She said Niko suffers from asthma and panic attacks, and uses an inhaler daily.

Perry said Niko's mother and aunt will remain in Egypt until they are reunited with Niko.

"The mother will not leave until she finds him, and my sister will not leave her there alone. So, both of them are there for the duration," Olga Panagos said.

Not only does Atteya feel closer to her son in Egypt, but also she feels like she has more resources available to her, Olga Panagos said.

The sisters are in hiding in a hostel in Cairo, Egypt.

While Olga and Perry said authorities have been helpful, they admit the process can be frustrating.

"We're exhausting every avenue in this situation. Nobody's been getting any sleep," Olga said.

Perry Panagos said it's been more than a week and they are getting frustrated with the process.

"The embassy can only do so much, but the government has to do more. There has to be something the U.S. government can do to help a U.S. citizen abroad," Olga Panagos said. "If the government can go into every other country and do everything that we do, they can surely go into another country and locate a child and reunite this child with his mom that he has known all his life."

While his mother and aunt remain in Egypt, Olga and Perry will continue to fight for their nephew's safe return to the home he has known all his life.

"We're not giving up until he's back home where he belongs," Perry Panagos said.

"I don't have any updated information. It is an active case in our office and we are pursuing it with the U.S. Department of State," said Jeff Urbanchuk, communications director for U.S. Bill Shuster, whose 9th District includes Franklin County.

"Currently there are no international or bilateral treaties in force between Egypt and the United States dealing with international parental child abduction. The Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction cannot be invoked if a child is taken from the United States to Egypt, or vice versa, by one parent against the wishes of the other parent or in violation of a U.S. custody order," according to the U.S. Department of State website.

Anyone with information about the case may call police at 717-264-5161.

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