CHAMBERSBURG, Pa. — Nearly a month has passed since 11-year-old Khalil Mohamed Atteya, known by his family as Niko, was allegedly snatched from his mother while on a trip to Egypt.
The Fayetteville, Pa., family’s nightmare began when Niko, his mother, Kalliopi “Kalli” Atteya, and aunt, Maria Panagos, boarded a plane for Egypt to see Niko’s non-custodial father.
On Aug. 1, the car carrying the boy’s father, Mohamed Atteya, and the rest of the group pulled over for what Atteya claimed was car trouble, Pennsylvania state police said.
Niko remained in the car while the others exited, police said. The father got back into the car, followed by Niko’s mother.
When Niko got back into the car, Atteya shoved her out of the car and ordered the driver to go, police said.
Niko’s mother and aunt were left along the road, and Niko hasn’t been seen since.
“Nothing has been going on and that’s what is so frustrating,” said Niko’s aunt, Olga Panagos of Chambersburg. “It’s been three weeks since Niko was taken, and it seems like we’re no farther ahead than when we started. In the beginning, we had some kind of hope, but now we’re at the point where everyone just pushes you on to the next person.”
While she said government officials in both the United States and Egypt are trying to help, she said everyone says they’re working on it.
Since Niko has asthma, Panagos worries about him day and night.
“He could be dead for all we know. He was taken by force. This child was born in the United States, and he is a prisoner in another country,” Panagos said.
Egypt is not a signer of the Hague Convention, but Panagos doesn’t understand why the United States can’t do something to bring Niko home.
“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.
Family friend Dustin John stopped by Panagos’ business Broadway Deli in Chambersburg to see how he could help reunite Niko with his family.
“I feel sad, angry, helpless and disgusted,” said the 31-year-old Chambersburg man.
He is hopeful that Niko will come home soon, but said there is so much red tape to go through.
“It just seems there has to be some way that our government could sanction them a little more or stop giving them so much aid until they’re willing to acknowledge some of the other international agreements involving child custody,” John said.
Not only is the family’s fight to bring Niko home exhausting emotionally, it’s also beginning to drain their finances.
Niko’s mother and aunt plan to stay in Egypt until they are reunited with Niko, Olga Panagos said.
The sisters are staying in a $23-a-day hostel in Egypt and spending between $8 and $12 a day on food, according to Panagos.
Kalli Atteya has retained an attorney in Egypt, which Panagos said would be expensive depending on “how long this drags on.”
So far, the Panagos family has incurred more than $1,500 in phone bills from calls to Egypt.
“I worry about them (sisters) because I don’t know how safe they are, and they are breaking down (emotionally). They feel helpless,” Panagos said. “They feel like nothing is happening, and they don’t know what to do, either. Here we have support, but over there they have nobody they can talk to.”
Since a phone call costs almost $3 a minute compared to a 25-cent text message, the sisters try to send text messages as often as they can.
As Panagos read one of her sister Kalli’s text messages Tuesday, she wept.
“I catch myself sitting alone. I feel tears coming down my cheeks missing my little sunshine. The weather here in Egypt is hot and sunny, but I haven’t seen the sunshine since my baby boy has been taken,” Kalli Atteya wrote.
Panagos continued reading as she tried to stifle tears.
“I’ve never felt this kind of pain in my life. I feel my heart breaking each day, and I don’t know how much longer I can deal with this,” Kalli Atteya wrote in the text.
“I know they can’t deal with it anymore, and I hurt for them,” Olga Panagos said.
She hopes the community rallies around Niko’s family. A benefit for Niko will be held on Sunday, Sept. 4, from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. at the Fayetteville Fire Hall.
The benefit will include an $8 dinner, prepared by Broadway Deli of Chambersburg, including homemade barbecued chicken, macaroni salad, baked beans, roll and drink. The event will also include a raffle, auction, face painting, moon bounce and more.
All proceeds will go toward legal fees and expenses in the effort to bring Niko home, Olga Panagos said.