For at least a year, the man would regularly bring the two children to Cherry Hill, where he abandoned them in an overgrown field and walked across the train tracks into an area known for heroin dealing, according to police and a witness. Prosecutors say the man was there to buy drugs.
Two months ago, a nearby auto repair shop owner called the police to report him. After that, shop owner Aaron M. Gaskins said, the man kept the children out of sight but on Monday stashed them in a muddy patch of reeds.
That's where police found the 7-year-old boy and 9-year-old girl whimpering and cowering as the windchill temperature dipped to 34 degrees.
Officers arrested Konstantinos Syropoulos, 27, of Brooklyn, and charged him with two counts each of reckless endangerment and contributing to the condition of a minor - his fiancee's two children. Baltimore District Court Judge Charlotte M. Cooksey set his bail yesterday at $50,000, and he faces 16 years in prison.
"Reasonable people don't leave their children," Assistant State's Attorney Barbara Richmond argued during the bail hearing. "How much more dangerous a situation can a parent put his kids in?"
Syropoulos, who prosecutors say has admitted to being a heroin addict for three years, faces two trials in Anne Arundel County on theft charges and one in Baltimore County on charges of unlawfully using a vehicle, according to prosecutors. He is also on probation stemming from a drug charge, Richmond said.
Syropoulos' public defender, Chris Nieto, called the allegation that Syropoulos was buying drugs on Monday "far-fetched at best." He said police did not find any drugs or money on Syropoulos.
Officials said the children, whose surnames are different from their mother's, remained in the custody of Child Protective Services yesterday, awaiting an April 22 hearing. Also yesterday, their mother, Amanda Blevins, was scheduled to be released from custody, prosecutors said. She has been held on theft charges, according to her mother, Robin Blevins.
Syropoulos received his general equivalency diploma in 1996 and attended Lincoln Technical Institute for two years, Nieto said. The first-generation immigrant from Greece is unemployed and last worked a year ago at a Safeway. His parents, who live in Baltimore County, could not be reached yesterday.
He and Blevins started dating three years ago and, according to Robin Blevins, it didn't take long for Syropoulos to take control of the children.
Robin and Amanda Blevins, Syropoulos and the two children live in a two-bedroom apartment in the 900 block of Stoll St. in Brooklyn. The children attend local public schools.
Wherever Syropoulos went, the children followed, Robin Blevins said. When he went into his room, they went with him. When he traveled to Cherry Hill, they went with him, she said.
"They're scared to death of him," Robin Blevins said. "He won't even let me give them a piece of candy."
Gaskins - the owner of Aaron G's Towing and Automotive Service in the 600 block of W. Patapsco Ave. in Cherry Hill - said it was about a year ago when he first spotted the kids.
"I felt bad for them," he said.
Drug users have worn a path alongside Gaskins' shop walking across the tracks to an apartment complex where they can buy drugs, according to the shop owner. Gaskins has taken to learning their names and waving, as long as they stay off his property.
Last summer, Gaskins saw Syropoulos leave the girl and boy as often as three times a day, he said. Feeling sorry for the children, he invited them inside for pizza.
It soon became a prearranged deal of sorts. Syropoulos would leave the children beside the shop. He'd walk across the tracks and they would go inside. After between 10 and 40 minutes he would return. Sometimes the children's mother came along and watched them, Gaskins said.
He said he doesn't know if the children knew what Syropoulos was doing, but "they knew something was going on."
Once school started, Gaskins would quiz the kids about their day.
"Tell me five things you did in school," he would say one day.
"Who is Francis Scott Key?" he would ask the next.
But the arrangement turned sour in February, the auto shop owner said, when Gaskins' mother found the children playing behind his shop - where he said drug users smoke heroin and where some have been robbed. After Gaskins' mother became angry, he called the police. Syropoulos ended up in handcuffs, the shop owner said.
According to prosecutors and court documents describing Monday's arrest, police were searching about 1:30 p.m. for a man who had fled from a stolen car when they heard crying and discovered the children curled up in the mud.
According to Gaskins, undercover and uniformed police had earlier chased Syropoulos from the area, questioned and released him, then - after finding the children - pursued him again. They caught him a few hundred yards away, using Gaskins' Nissan Pathfinder to drive after him, the shop owner said.
The children had been huddling in a cluster of dry reeds and scraggly trees less than 20 feet from Patapsco Avenue - a six-lane divided highway. They were among empty fast-food cups, crumpled soda cans and torn candy bar wrappers. The reeds and the terrain hid the children from view, Gaskins said, but not from the wind.
After being caught, Gaskins said, Syropoulos asked the children, "Why didn't you just run?"