LEONIDAS ZAGARIS – HOME!
LEONIDAS COMES HOME!
Twenty long months after Leonidas was kidnapped – he is now home!! Leo’s Mom, Alissa Zagaris says it was a whirlwind immediately before she and Leo were reunited. Alissa received a call from the US State Department telling her she needed to get on a flight now, because they and Greek law enforcement were moving in to pick up Leo within 48 hours.
For the 20 months her son was gone, Alissa never gave up, never stopped fighting and searching. She is an inspiration that joins the likes of Bob Pfeifer for families of the left behind parent. Alissa and Leo provide a hope that at times may feel lost. She persisted in her fight to have her ex-husband return her son, all while Nikos is a volatile man with a history of violence. In January of 2008, he was arrested on domestic battery and felony strangulation charges after he beat Alissa.
When he was bonded out after the altercation, he fled to Greece in an effort to avoid the charges against him. Thankfully though, the biggest part of this story has come to a close, a happy and joyous close.
Leo is quite the young man, I easily fell in love with him. When the Greek police showed up at his school to pick him and his father up, and took them down to the Ministry of Justice in Athens where they were separated, Leo says “I thought, ‘Oh God, what’s going on? Am I getting arrested?’ I was kinda freaked out!” Alissa’s flight landed and less than an hour later she had her son back in her arms. “He buried his head in my chest, I told him ‘Honey, both countries have decided where you belong, and it’s time for you to go home.’” Alissa and Leo spent the night in a hotel, Leonidas stepping up to help check he and his mother in and order them dinner in Greek. Leo enjoyed the hotel swimming pool and made a call to his best friend back home in the United States, Morgan Eldridge.
Early the next morning, Leo and Alissa were taken to the airport. Alissa says when they landed in Paris to make a connecting flight “Leo was playing games and gitty. I was crying and couldn’t stop crying all the way back. I’m not worried anymore. I’m a mom again, I’m a mom again. I’m still broken, but I’m healing quickly. My heart is finally back together.”
Only 52 hours after Alissa stepped onto the plane heading for Greece, she and Leo stepped off the plane on American soil, home for good.
When Leo arrived in the US, he quickly filled himself up with America junk food that was not available in Greece. Wendy’s, Gatorade, Cool Ranch Doritos and Cheez-Its are a few of his favorites. With a smile, Alissa laughs that Leo went through a withdrawal from American food.
It only took a matter of 30 seconds for Leo to re-acclimate being back home. “It’s almost like he’s come home from vacation, it’s just been 20 months. It’s like the last 20 months never happened.” says Alissa. As for Leo, he said “I’m looking forward to seeing all of my friends, sleepovers and going to an indoor pool. It feels great, awesome (to be home).”
Leo arrived home to his friend Morgan waiting for him, and the two picked up right where they left off. Every day after school Morgan would go to Leo’s to play the Wii and hang out, making up a little for lost time. “We’ve been having a lot of fun. It’s pretty much non-stop. He’s taller.” Morgan says. Morgan kept in touch with Alissa the entire time Leo was gone, waiting and hoping for him to return, a powerful bond for an 11 year old child that knew this may not have a good ending. “I tried not to think about. When bad news came I tried to brush it off.” she stated.
Leo will be receiving after-care and therapy from victim specialists, just ensuring the young man has all the resources needed to get through the gravity of the situation once he really begins to understand it.
Thankfully though – Leo is filled with happiness and joy, and adjusting seems to be something he was born to do. Leo was enrolled in school after he was tested to see what grade level he will be placed in. Alissa shares “He was in school in Greece, but it was basically learning Greek, so he took language class the last 20 months.” Alissa is filled with gratitude for Leo’s former teachers who offered to help him get caught up in schoolwork so he can hopefully enter the 6th grade next school year.
As for Nikos, he was released, however still faces US charges of international abduction and felony kidnapping charges. He has avoided going to jail in Greece by relinquishing Leo to authorities.
Despite the nightmare Alissa has been living, she allows Leo to stay in contact with his father nightly via Skype. As for overseas visits though – that won’t be happening again! Alissa has found a new passion for advocacy and is now helping other families who are in the same situation she and Leo just overcame, saying that she has finally moved from victim to advocate.
Leo and Alissa remind people that this is happening every day, that there are thousands of children that still need to be brought home from overseas. They also remind people, that it is possible to bring these children home. It may be a difficult and laborious fight (which we are slowly beginning to smooth out the better serve left behind parents and abducted children), but it is a fight that can be won.
All of us here at Lighting Their Way Home are delighted that Leo is home and are sending he and Alissa all of our love.
WELCOME HOME LEO!!
Date of Birth: January 2, 2001
Height: 4’10” Weight: 85 lbs
Hair: Sandy Eyes: Green
Missing: June 2, 2011 From: Noblesville, IN
Distinguishing Features: Leonidas has a gap between his front teeth.
Leonidas was abducted by his non-custodial father, Nikolaos Zagaris. Leonidas’ father and mother, Alissa Zagaris, divorced in late 2007. Not long after their divorce, Nikolaos left the country and returned to his native Greece as a result of felony charges against him for felony battery and state tax evasion. In 2009, Alyssa was granted full custody of Leonidas, with Nikolaos being granted visitation with the boy in Greece.
Leonadis had travelled back and forth between the two countries five times prior to his abduction, without incident. In June of 2011, Leonardis went for a visitation with his father in Greece. It was then that Nikolaos requested that the charges brought against him be dropped before he would return his son to the United States. When it was refused to drop the charges, Nikolaos took Leonardis and vanished. The two have not been seen or heard from since October of 2011. A felony warrant for Custodial Interference was issued for Nikolaos on October 21, 2011, an addition to his previous charges.
Leonardis and his father are still believed to be in Marathon, Greece.
Date of Birth: November 27, 1971
Height: 6’0” Weight: 240 lbs
Hair: Light Brown Eyes: Hazel
If you have any information regarding the disappearance of Leonidas Zagaris, please immediately contact the Noblesville Police Department at:
The National Center For Missing & Exploited Children at: