Roy Exum: The Blonde Girl Called Maria

Tuesday, October 22, 2013 - by Roy Exum
Roy Exum
Roy Exum

I have got far too many things to do and more demands on my time to worry about a four-year-old blue-eyed blonde girl who was just discovered in a camp of gypsies in central Greece but I catch myself praying for the one they call “Maria” two of three times a day. She was discovered last week when a prosecutor, accompanying local police on a raid, found the child sticking out “like a fly in a cup of milk.”

That is the very description a Greek detective used back in 1995 when a blonde boy was spotted in another gypsy camp, triggering hopes that maybe Ben Needham had been found after he had gone missing at age 21 months some four years before while his family was on vacation in Greece. Trafficking of children is a world-wide horror and, while the Needham boy would be 21 years old today, the mysterious Maria has given his family and many others all across the globe new hope.

Back in 1995, the Needham case went cold when a gypsy family brought a different child to the police station for questioning. When police returned to the camp, the blonde boy was gone but Maria has been seized by authorities and, after being secreted away in a hospital over the weekend, the girl will be placed in the hands of a reputable agency as the spellbinding case continues.

I cannot describe my fascination with the small girl, other than my feelings are the same as parents the world over. And obviously the blonde girl is not the birth daughter of the couple who had her, their dark complexions so different that the prosecutor accompanying the police immediately called foul.

The gypsies, or Roma as they are called, are nomads who live on the outskirts of some towns in Greece and sell vegetables, peddle merchandise and do odd jobs. Unfortunately, they are sometimes involved in more illicit activities, be it running guns or drugs. And then there is child trafficking, a lucrative practice where a young blonde girl would make a wonderful beggar or much worse. There are allegations Maria was already begging on the streets.

Apparently there was never a birth agency that tracked children in Greece until just a few years ago and, if what the woman who had Maria first told police, she would have had to have given birth to six children in less than 10 months. Authorities were also alarmed that 10 of 14 children claimed by the couple can now not be found. It seems the more children a family claims, the more that family can get in welfare payments. At latest word, the gypsy couple has said they adopted Maria shortly after she was born.

What makes the young girl further intriguing is the cover from a June 1985 issue of National Geographic. A magazine photographer snapped a picture of an Afghanistan girl at a refugee camp that immediately became one of the most iconic pictures ever taken. The haunted look in the Afghani child’s eyes, surely the result of travelling at night to avoid Soviet bombs, is one that none of us can forget.

Some years later the acclaimed photographer, Steve McCurry, was accompanied by a writer and returned to the refugee camp with only the picture and, after a laborious effort, found Sharbat Gula. Her parents had been killed when she was six and the photograph doesn’t show the burns or the horrors she had endured when the picture was taken of her at age 13.

The photographer found Sharbat and the result was almost staggering. Now 29 or 30 and the mother of three children, “the Afghan girl” was married to a baker in a marriage that had been arranged long before. She looked like an old woman, her face tired and her eyes dull in contrast to the award-winning photo.

Today’s prayer is that the future will be far brighter for the blonde child in Greece. Eight or nine “promising inquiries”  – four from the United States and the others from Europe -- are now being vetted and the charity charged with Maria’s safekeeping reported Monday that it has received almost 10,000 calls regarding the girl. Modern-day forensics believe Maria may be more like 5 or 6 years old but DNA tests confirmed almost immediately that she is not the daughter of the gypsy couple.

A director of the charity agency, “A Child’s Smile,”  credited the prosecutor who had accompanied the police raid with Maria’s rescue. “She saw a little blonde head sticking out of the bedcovers and it struck her as odd; that's how it all started."

The director said the couple in question had obtained a birth certificate for Maria in Athens. "We are shocked by how easy it is for people to register children as their own," he told reporters. "There is much more to investigate. There are other registered children that were not found in the settlement, and I believe police will unravel a thread that doesn't just have to do with the girl."

With the world’s news media in furious pursuit, there are constant updates pouring from Greece but until there are more answers, people just like me are praying for a quick solution.  Maria is an immediate concern but it is hoped her story will bring a harsh light on human trafficking as well.

royexum@aol.com


Flabbergasted By Rape Suspended Sentence

I am flabbergasted. A 15-year-old young lady was raped by a bus driver, to whom we have entrusted our young, and all he gets is a suspended sentence and a GPS ankle bracelet.  Really? What judicial idiot, in their “judicial wisdom,” felt that sentence was appropriate?  Via the Disciplinary Counsel of the Supreme Court of Tennessee- Administrative Office of the Courts, ... (click for more)

Keep Jonathan Welch On The School Board

We all know there are problems with the management of our school system.   Fortunately for District 2, Jonathan Welch is not one of them. In the last four years, Jonathan Welch has become acutely aware of what's wrong in the Hamilton County Department of Education.    He not only recognizes the problems, he's worked to identify solutions, and with a reconfigured ... (click for more)

Man Who Spent Most Of His 20s Behind Bars Headed To Federal Prison For 58 Months At Age 30

A man who spent most of his 20s in Georgia state prison is headed to federal prison at age 30. Leighton L. Dunn on Friday was sentenced by Judge Travis McDonough to serve 58 months for being a felon in possession of a gun during a carjacking. Dunn told the judge, "I was released in March (2015) and was doing good, then I fell in that same rut. Before I knew it I was caught ... (click for more)

Man Arrested For Confronting Southside Grocery Employee With Gun

Brandon Jamal Appleberry, 27, was arrested on Monday after an altercation with an employee at Southside Grocery on West 38 th Street, officers said. Marty Witt, 44, told police that the suspect confronted him with a gun in his hand. Officers said security video from the store clearly showed Appleberry arguing with several people outside while holding a gun. The defendant ... (click for more)

Thompson, Mason Win Scenic City Scorcher With Record Times

(Story will be updated) Saturday was another record-setting day for runners in Chattanooga. The occasion was the second running of the Scenic City Scorcher, a flat and fast two-mile race in Heritage Landing. Christian Thompson and Rachel Mason were overall winners and both did so in record-breaking time.  Thompson was all alone in first with a time of nine ... (click for more)

CCS Names Eddie Salter, Ben Wharton As New Basketball, Baseball Coaches

Chattanooga Christian School announced that Coach Eddie Salter is returning to the men’s basketball program as the Varsity Head Coach for 2016-2017. He will be joined by Chattanooga Christian alumnus, Ben Wharton, who has been named the Varsity Head Coach of the men’s baseball program and the Junior Varsity Men’s Basketball Coach.  Former Varsity Head Basketball Coach ... (click for more)