Greek officials who are trying to determine the origin of a young blonde girl found living in a Roma settlement last week have received thousands of calls since releasing her photo. Some callers offer information; others say the girl may be their child. The head of a charity that’s now caring for the girl says about 10 missing-children cases are being reviewed.
“They include children from the United States, Canada, Poland and France,” Panagiotis Pardalis of The Smile of the Child charity tells CNN.
Police believe the girl, who doesn’t resemble the couple she had been living with, is the victim of kidnapping or trafficking.
“The Greek media are calling the girl the blonde angel — she’s pale-skinned, blue-eyed and not biologically related to the couple who claim to be her parents,” NPR’s Joanna Kakissis reported from Athens. “They gave conflicting accounts of how they got the child.”
In court Monday, the married couple who were raising the girl in central Greece reportedly said they adopted her from a Bulgarian woman. Christos Salis, 39, and his wife, Eleftheria Dimopoulou, 41, are in police custody as they face charges of abduction and falsifying documents.
The families whose missing-child cases are being reviewed for possible ties to the girl in Greece include the Irwins of Kansas City, whose daughter, Lisa, disappeared in 2011. The family’s attorney tells KSHB TV that the FBI has been in touch. Britain’s The Daily Mail says theirs is one of four U.S. cases being analyzed for possible connections to the girl in Greece.
The discovery of the girl, who is believed to be 5 or 6 years old, made international headlines; it has also placed renewed scrutiny on the Roma community.
The Smile of The Child, a private charity in Greece, is now taking care of the girl, whom the couple called Maria. “The charity’s director Costas Yiannopoulos said Maria was ‘calm and happy’ after a difficult transition,” reports Greek news site ekathimerini.
Outside the courthouse where the couple made their first court appearance Monday, members of the Roma community gathered to protest what they call the unfair targeting of the couple based on their ethnicity.
“As in the rest of Europe, the Roma have long been oppressed in Greece,” Joanna said in a recent report. “Many are illiterate and shut out of society. Greek police say they turn to crime — including baby trafficking — to support themselves.”
Interpol has no record of a missing girl who matches Maria’s DNA, according to Greek newspaper To Vima. The paper also says, “Bulgarian authorities have revealed that there has been a sharp rise in the operation of illegal adoption rings after the country joined the EU.”
Police are also investigating other children who were found living with the Roma couple — six kids are in a very narrow age range, according to reports. And the case has also had repercussions for Greek officials.
“Four officials, including the head of the registry office from which Maria got her birth certificate, have been suspended while a police investigation is under way, the media office of the Athens municipality said Tuesday. The girl received the document this year, it said. It is unusual for a birth certificate to be issued years later.”