Authorities in Greece are asking for international assistance to identify a four-year old girl who was found living in a Roma camp with a couple who are charged with abducting her from her birth parents. NBC's Natalie Morales reports.
Authorities trying to solve the mystery of Maria - the blond girl found in a Roma camp in Greece last week - have been inundated with more than 10,000 calls or emails offering potential leads.
“The calls have come in primarily from within Greece,” said Panagiotis Pardalis, a communications officer at The Smile of a Child charity. “But emails have come in from across Europe, as well as from the United States, Canada, Australia and South Africa.”
The girl "appears to be at peace and is happy,” he added. “She is playing and also communicating with the people around her.”
He added that the “mystery blond girl,” as she has been dubbed by the Greek media, remains in a hospital where a dental examination showed she is between five and six years old.
Sakis Mitrolidis / AFP - Getty Images
The house where the blonde girl known as "Maria" was found by Greek police.
Authorities are trying to identify where she originates from.
The girl was spotted peeking out from under a blanket on Wednesday as police swept the Roma settlement for suspected drug trafficking near Farsala, a small town around 170 miles north of the Greek capital, Athens. Roma also have been called Gypsies, though that term is considered derogatory.
She speaks just a few words - in the Roma dialect, and in Greek - and police think she may be of northern or eastern European origin, possibly from Scandinavia or Bulgaria.
DNA tests show that the 40-year-old woman and 39-year-old man she was living with in the camp were not her biological parents.
Officers told Reuters the couple gave at least five conflicting accounts of how the child ended up with them, including that she was found outside a supermarket.
The woman had two different identification documents and other papers suggested the couple had up to 14 children, but six were registered as having been born within less than 10 months. They received 2,790 euros ($3,800) a month in child benefits, a police source told the agency.
The couple faced magistrates on Monday to respond to charges of abduction and procuring false documents.
They denied snatching Maria and said her mother handed the girl to them shortly after giving birth, one of their lawyers Constantinos Katsavos, told reporters outside the court.
"It was an adoption that was not exactly legal but took place with the mother's consent," he said, adding that is what the couple testified.
The court will decide whether the pair will be kept in custody pending trial or released on bail.
She's being called the "blond angel," and it was the girl's blond hair and pale skin that led to her rescue. The search is now on for her parents. NBC's Duncan Golestani reports.
Members of the media were not permitted at the hearing, which was held behind closed doors and guarded by more than a dozen police.
Outside, members of the Roma community gathered to show their support and said they were being unfairly stigmatized.
Police have sent Interpol a file with all the evidence they have on the girl, including DNA samples, to seek a possible match with records of missing children.
The possibility of a smuggling ring - in which pregnant women were brought into Greece from Bulgaria and their children put up for sale - was also being investigated, according to the Greek state owned news agency, Amna.
“People smuggling syndicates are drawn by huge profits that can be made, while benefiting from weak legislation and the relatively low risk of detection, prosecution and arrest compared to other activities of transnational organized crime,” Interpol says on its website.
Earlier, Katsavos told NBC News’ U.K. partner ITV News that attempts were being made to find the girl's biological mother, who he described as an impoverished Bulgarian woman.
"It is our effort to find the physical mother," he said. "If the mother is found I think (the verdict against the couple) will be not guilty."
The president of the local Romany community, Babis Dimitrios, denied to reporters that children had been bought or sold in his town.
"Is the woman who found the child at fault? She should have gone to the police (and say) 'the Bulgarian abandoned the child with me and got up and left,’" he said.
Reuters contributed to this report.
This story was originally published on Mon Oct 21, 2013 12:09 PM EDT