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Family of Pa. boy allegedly abducted by his father in Egypt clings to hope

Relatives work to bring 'Niko' Atteya back to U.S.

November 30, 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. — It's been four months since 11-year-old Khalil "Niko" Mohamed Atteya of Fayetteville, Pa., was allegedly abducted by his noncustodial father while on vacation in Egypt.

Even though no one has seen or heard from Niko, his aunt, Olga Panagos, and the rest of the boy's family in Fayetteville, are clinging to hope that he will soon return to the United States.

"We're not going to lose hope," Panagos said. "Right now, we're just coming to the reality that he's not here."

Niko, who would have started sixth grade at Chambersburg Area Middle School North in August, was thrilled at the prospect of traveling to Egypt to see the pyramids with his mother, Kalliopi "Kalli" Atteya, and his aunt, Maria Panagos. They planned to meet with his father, Mohamed Atteya, who was already there.

Shortly after arriving at the Cairo airport on July 30, Niko was separated from his mother and aunt, Pennsylvania State police said.

On Aug. 1, the car that was transporting Niko, his mother, his aunt Maria and his father pulled over for what his father claimed was car trouble, police said.

Niko remained in the car while the others got out, according to police. His father got back into the car, followed by his mother.

When Niko's mother got into the car, his father shoved her out and ordered the driver to go, police said.

Niko's mother and aunt were left along the road between Cairo and Port Said, police said. The boy hasn't been seen since.

"His room is like nothing has been changed. We don't touch anything," Olga said.

Like other children his age, Niko would have been putting together a Christmas wish list, Olga said, noting that getting through the holiday season without Niko would be unbearable.

"Life for us has kind of come to —" Olga said, her voice trailing off. "I watch my mom and dad, and you can kind of see the hurt in their faces and their fears."

Her parents are 73 years old.

"It has taken a toll on the whole family, honestly. And how do we hold it together — I really don't know sometimes. We each have to be strong for the other, and we especially have to be strong for Kalli," Olga said.

For the family, the search for Niko has infiltrated every aspect of their lives.

Between waiting on customers at Broadway Deli in Chambersburg, Pa., Olga texts her sisters — Kalli and Maria — who have remained in Egypt to try to find Niko.

Olga said her sisters are very isolated because they don't know the language or culture.

"But they won't leave without Niko," she said.

Olga said one of Kalli's biggest fears is that Niko will forget about her or think that no one is looking for him.

"She sent me a text saying, 'I feel guilty because I don't get to tell him I love him every night like I used to,'" Olga said.

The Herald-Mail was able to contact Kalli and talked with her briefly.

"I can't sleep. I keep seeing the last night when Niko was banging on the car window and calling out for me," she said via telephone from Egypt.

Those nightmares of her son being taken from her haunt her daily.

"He is a little boy lost in a culture that he doesn't understand. He's a human being. He's not a package," she said.

Olga said she tries to be positive for Niko's mother and aunt, who both have lost 30 pounds since the ordeal began.

She said the family has done everything it can to find Niko.

The family has hired attorney Jeffrey Evans of Waynesboro, Pa., to try to get custody of Niko for his mother.

He said at the time Niko went to Egypt, there was no order specifying his custody status.

Evans is working with Kalli's attorney in Egypt.

"I think there's always hope (in finding Niko), but some of what's going to happen is going to have to happen in Egypt," Evans said.

Kalli and Maria remain in regular communication with the State Department, the U.S. Embassy and their attorney in Egypt.

"We even hired a private investigator, but he came up with nothing," Olga said.

The family has also sought help from U.S. Rep. Bill Shuster's office.

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