Two mothers finally got the reunion they were longing for more than two years after and a continent away from where they had last seen their sons.
Zarouhi “Zanni” Kalayejian met with her sons, Alexander and Zaven Silah, and Christine Stackhouse saw her son, Greg Silah, in The Netherlands the weekend of Nov. 6 for the first time since they had dropped the boys off to visit with their fathers in Playa del Rey in July 2008, according to the FBI.
“They were successfully reunited and will be coming home together,” FBI spokeswoman Laura Eimiller said of the mothers and sons.
The three boys were found in safe condition and were being held by Dutch family protective services until reuniting with their mothers in an area approximately 90 miles from The Hague, Eimiller said.
George Silah, father of Alex and Zaven, and John Silah, Greg’s father, had allegedly abducted the boys and taken them overseas where they were located after two and years following an international investigation involving multiple agencies, authorities said.
George and John Silah, who were arrested for the alleged abduction, were being held in the custody of Dutch police, FBI officials said. The fathers are facing pending state and federal charges, according to the FBI.
Following the news that the boys were located, supporters said “prayers have been answered” on a Web site created for the search effort.
“It is unclear how the children are doing emotionally right now but we can be sure that they are probably very confused and possibly a little scared of the changes happening in their lives,” said a statement on findthesilahchildren.com.
In July 2008, John and George Silah had scheduled visits with their sons but never returned them to their mothers, who have custody, police said. The fathers, who lived together in the 7300 block of W. 81st Street in Playa del Rey, abandoned the home, police said.
Alex and Zaven, who were students at Westchester Lutheran School at the time, are now 14 and 11 years old, while Greg is now 12.
The mothers, who have since remarried, were visibly distraught at a news conference a month after reporting the boys missing at the Los Angeles Police Department Pacific station, where they pleaded to the Silah brothers to return their sons.
“I miss you guys so much,” Kalayejian told her sons at the conference. “Please be strong. Don’t be afraid. We are all looking for you.”
LAPD Pacific Det. Scott Walton, who was assigned the case in August 2008, recalled how Stackhouse and Kalayejian would contact him four times a day to check on any updates. Police were able to track the Silahs’ travels into Mexico after an alleged accomplice was arrested in Hollywood in October 2008, Walton noted.
The suspect told police that he had driven the Silahs and their sons in their vehicle to an airport in Mexico City, where they apparently boarded a plane to somewhere in South America, Walton said. The man then drove the Silahs’ vehicle to Tijuana where he sold it, Walton said. Police believe the Silahs then flew from South America to a destination in Europe at some point.
The FBI took over the primary investigation once the case was determined to have crossed an international border. Eimiller said there were some reports of possible sightings in Central America but they were never verified.
“This case took many turns and led to sources in several different countries,” she said.
The mothers had initially indicated to police that John Silah threatened to take his son to his home country of Syria. Walton said police did not believe the fathers would harm the children but were concerned that they were hiding the boys, making it difficult to find them.
John Nazarian, a private investigator who was hired by the mothers early on to aid in the effort, said he felt it was highly unlikely that the Silahs were headed to Syria and was confident they had instead crossed the Mexican border.
Detectives felt discouraged when they learned that the fathers had likely fled the country with their sons, Walton recalled.
“We felt helpless and it took a lot of wind out of our sailsŠ but we knew the FBI would have a lot of resources to dedicate to the case, which they did,” he said.
After following many leads and developing sources in many countries, the FBI focused its investigation on Athens, Greece, Eimiller said. The FBI worked closely for several months with Greek authorities, whose investigation led to The Netherlands. Greek authorities collaborated with Dutch law enforcement agencies to track the specific location of the Silahs and their sons, Eimiller said.
The FBI credited a number of domestic and international law enforcement agencies with assisting in the successful recovery of the Silah children.
“There’s been an amazing tale of cooperation among the different law enforcement agencies,” Walton said.
Some of those involved in the search effort were gratified to learn that the young boys were reunited with their mothers and their fathers were arrested.
“I’m thrilled to death that the kids have been found and will be reunited with their mothers,” Nazarian said.
Walton added of LAPD detectives’ reaction, “We feel great; it’s awesome. When (the case) was in our court we were running with it as hard as we could.”
For the FBI agents who put time and effort into solving the case over the past two years, they were gratified and happy to be able to tell the mothers that their sons were finally found, Eimiller said.
“I can’t overstate that emotion,” she said.
Some of those working in certain stages of the investigation noted how they remained confident all along that the Silahs would be found and their children returned home.
“I’m not at all surprised that these kids were recovered; it’s a matter of time in a case like this,” Nazarian said.
Referring to the uncertainty of when the case would be concluded, Walton said his primary concern was that the three boys would be able to reunite with their mothers while they were still at a young age.
“My only hope was that the boys would be located before they became grown men,” the detective said. “I’m glad it worked out this way.”