Mother, daughter recount shooting

2011-02-22T00:45:00Z 2013-01-03T14:57:15Z Mother, daughter recount shootingGAIL SCHONTZLER Bozeman Daily Chronicle The Billings Gazette
February 22, 2011 12:45 am  • 

LIVINGSTON — She lay on the cold ground, crumpled and bleeding and defenseless, as bullet after bullet hit her body.

Georgia Smith felt each bullet like the jolt of an electric shock.

The man with the gun, just a few feet away, shot her five times.

"I asked God to let me die, because it hurt so much," Smith recalled, tears in her eyes. "Let me die, or take this dark terror away."

Thomas Kyros, 81, had traveled thousands of miles from his home in Florida to this windswept Montana hillside with stunning views of the Crazy Mountains.

Kyros, a retired Greek-American who said he had worked in experimental physics at Columbia University, was obsessed. He was obsessed with Smith's daughter, 19-year-old Promethea Pythaitha, a young genius who had learned calculus at 7 and became at age 14 the youngest person ever to graduate from Montana State University.

Kyros liked to think of Promethea as his adopted granddaughter and called himself her "pappoulis," Greek for little grandfather.

For years, he sent her e-mails, books, money and flowers. He wanted Promethea to attend an elite university back East, and tried to get her away from the mother he blamed for thwarting that plan.

Kyros refused to listen when Promethea asked him by e-mail to stop harassing her. He decided it was her mother who really wrote the messages. He accused Smith of brainwashing the girl and making her "a slave."

Finally, on Jan. 17, he was ready to act.

It was almost noon on Martin Luther King Jr. Day. Smith, 56, a Greek-born artist who works at housekeeping and other odd jobs, heard a noise at the edge of her property on Outlaw Hill Road. Someone in a pickup truck was ramming the green metal gate across their driveway, trying to break it down.

"Get the camera," she told Promethea, who instead went out to see who it was.

Promethea ran back, said it was Thomas Kyros, grabbed the video camera and tried to get it ready to record the encounter, in case they might need evidence. Just five days before, Promethea had signed a no-stalking order against Kyros with authorities in Livingston.

Smith, a tiny woman barely 5 feet tall with long, silver-streaked hair, walked out the driveway to talk to him.

Without a word, Kyros lifted his arm and, from just a few feet away, fired his handgun.

Smith screamed in surprise and jumped back. The first bullet hit her neck. She landed on her right side. She couldn't move. Her left arm seemed paralyzed.

Promethea heard the scream and gunshot, and saw her mother's face covered with blood. She ran back into the house to find a cell phone to call 911 for an ambulance and police.

In shock, she saw Kyros shoot her mother again and again.

"I screamed at him to stop," Promethea said. "I called him a bastard."

Promethea ran out and shielded her mother's body with her own. She told the 911 dispatcher to hurry.

"He was saying all kinds of nasty things, speaking in Greek, saying, 'This beast must die,'" Promethea said. "I told him he was a beast."

Her mother, moaning, couldn't see and was struggling to breathe, Promethea guessed from a collapsed lung.

"I was losing my life, and I knew it," Smith said. "As I lay there, I asked God to protect me. ... When I couldn't bear it anymore, I asked for death."

Promethea saw her mother's lips turn blue.

"He said, 'Why are you weeping? You should be happy she's going to die,'" Promethea said. "I told my mother to keep fighting to stay alive."

It seemed forever 'until they heard two sheriff's deputies arrive. The deputies walked toward Kyros, telling him to get out of the truck, to put down the weapon.

"Drop your gun, sir!" one deputy shouted. The women heard Kyros' gun fire. One deputy jumped to the side. "'Did he get you?'" the other deputy asked.

"Drop your gun, sir!'" the deputy shouted a second time. Again Kyros fired.

Then Smith heard "a series of bullets in the air, like fireworks."

Kyros was dead.

"I figured he wanted to take me with him," Promethea said grimly. "He would have tried to drag me away. One of us wouldn't have survived."

Hands shaking, Promethea unlocked the gate. The waiting ambulance crew drove in quickly.

The EMTs cut away Smith's clothing and jammed a big needle into her chest wall so she could breathe again. The ambulance rushed down the long dirt road to the hospital in Livingston, where the doctor cut her open, found extensive injuries, and prepared her to be airlifted to a Billings hospital.

Smith asked Promethea to tell her two older children, Vanessa and Apollo, "I love you." She told Promethea she knew she was going to be "strong enough, no matter what happens." Then she lost consciousness.

Kyros missed killing her mother by a hair, Promethea said.

"I can't forget the sound of his gun, my mother screaming, the cold hatred in his eyes when he shot her," she said. "It was the most cold thing I ever saw."

***

Fame has brought Promethea and her mother friends, financial help and threats.

Promethea made the front page of the Bozeman Daily Chronicle when she graduated from MSU in 2005, but she became truly famous among Greek-Americans and Greeks in 2007 when she gave a speech in Chicago at age 15.

One of several bright Greek-American students awarded $10,000 PanHellenic scholarships, Promethea decided to use the awards dinner at the Ritz Hotel to speak out about what she believed was a great historic injustice.

Standing between two Greek Orthodox archbishops in traditional black hats and long beards, Promethea charged that 16 centuries ago the Greek Christian church had slaughtered thousands of Greeks who followed the old pagan gods or upheld traditional Greek learning. She called for an end to Orthodox censorship in society and dogma in Greek schools. Some in the audience shouted angrily, others applauded and her speech was cut short.

The scene was posted on YouTube and seen by Greeks around the world. Promethea received hate e-mail, as well as messages hailing her as a heroine.

A few months later, after a crash on Bozeman Pass that nearly killed her mother, Greek supporters sent checks to Promethea, which made it possible to replace their totaled truck.

One who wrote admiringly was Kyros. From Florida he sent Promethea e-mail, phone calls and checks. Mother and daughter used $9,000 from Kyros to visit Greece.

Promethea figured he was an older, lonely guy, who wanted to call her granddaughter. Foolishly, she said, she called him grandfather.

"After that, fairly quickly he became intrusive," she said. Kyros wanted to know where she was at all times, wanted her bank account number. On the phone he harassed her older brother, who is developmentally disabled, accusing him of lying when Promethea wasn't there.

"I told my mother, 'This guy is starting to creep me out,'" she said.

Politely at first, she tried to get him to back off. But he got worse, accusing her mother of having great wealth and fancy vehicles, of keeping Promethea out of school. He sent packages, which Promethea returned unopened. He sent flowers, which she told the delivery guy to give to his wife.

"I got fed up," Promethea said. "I wrote to him to get lost. I said he needed a shrink. ... After a while, I quit writing and ignored him."

"He was extremely pushy and tyrannical," Smith said. "He didn't have a right to tell Promethea what to do with her life, any more than I do."

By 2009, Kyros had bombarded MSU officials with e-mail and phone calls, hired a private investigator to dig up dirt on Smith, and harangued newspaper reporters, demanding investigative reports on the mother. Yet Kyros refused to be quoted in any news story that included Smith.

"I am a respectable person," he said.

Then in November, Kyros showed up in Montana for the first time. Promethea said the police in Livingston called her to say a man named Pappoulis was looking for her address. He had flowers for her.

"Don't give him my address," she said.

Promethea hoped Kyros would give up and return to Florida. During finals week in December, she said, "I was always looking over my shoulder, fearing he would show up."

On Jan. 12, Promethea was sitting on a bench outside a Park County courtroom, waiting as a witness in a civil suit.

"This guy, this ugly guy, shows up," she said. He sat down close to her. She said I've got the flu, you probably want to keep your distance. He scooted closer, and she noticed his Greek accent. No way, she thought. Could this be my worst nightmare?

"Do I know you?" she asked.

He pulled out a card that read "Pappoulis."

"I don't want to ever see you again," she said. "You're being way too invasive."

She thought since she was telling him herself, he would finally get the message that she really wanted nothing to do with him.

She walked to the sheriff's department to file a complaint. He followed. She signed a stalking order against him. Authorities had Kyros sign it, she said.

"The police said, 'The young lady does not want your attentions.' And he said, 'Yes, I know, that's why I'm here.'"

Thomas Kyros "is the worst thing that ever happened to me," Promethea said. It's the first time she ever wished she was "normal." Her mother shouldn't have to pay for his "insanity," she said.

"I'd like to say I feel sorry for him," Promethea said, "but I don't."

***

After three weeks in the hospital, Smith is back home, trying to recover from her injuries, physically and emotionally.

She can wiggle her left fingers, but the arm is paralyzed. Doctors had to remove a third of her lower intestine, which makes it hard to digest food. She has lost 30 pounds. She has bullet wounds in both legs and a fractured hip. She cannot button her clothes, tie her shoes or work to support her family.

Some things may heal in time. Others may never be the same.

She is a sturdy woman. At age 55, she was pregnant, something she said wasn't unusual for women in her family. She declined to discuss publicly the outcome of the pregnancy, saying it's a private matter.

Since the shooting, Smith said, "I feel far more vulnerable. I didn't realize how easy it is to die. How deep hate runs.

"You lose faith in humanity," she said, her eyes welling. "I feel I cannot trust anyone. All the ideals you had vanish in thin air. I think that is the greatest pain I suffer. By my nature, I'm a very naive person, artistic, idealistic. I like to express beauty in life. Now I don't believe in anything."

Yet Smith is grateful for what she calls the "links of life." If every "link" hadn't happened just as it did — if not for the fence, Promethea shielding her, the deputies, the ambulance, the doctors and nurses in Livingston and Billings — she would not have survived.

"I've never met so much niceness before," Smith said. How do you thank the deputies who walked in the line of fire, she asked, or the doctors and EMTs?

"When events test men, angels appear," Promethea said.

Smith said she wants to keep recovering and to join an organization to support victims of crime.

For now, Promethea is taking care of her mother and not going to classes, which concerns her mother.

"The only reason I cannot study is because I can't — I'm not over what he did," Promethea said emphatically.

On a practical level, Smith can't drive her to MSU with one arm, and Promethea never got a driver's license, finding it "boring as hell. I like learning interesting stuff. Give me quantum mechanics or string theory."

If her mother had died, Promethea said, "I wouldn't have had much reason to go on living." The comment upset her mother. "I didn't work all those years," she said, to have Promethea just give up. What she meant, Promethea replied, is "I wouldn't have cared that much."

During the interview, Promethea got two phone calls she didn't answer. She said they came from another American Greek, who feels any university in Montana must be a "hick" college, and she ought to attend a real university.

"He calls me three times a day," Promethea said.

She said she's beginning to wonder if she is "a lunatic magnet."

Copyright 2014 The Billings Gazette. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Follow The Billings Gazette

Popular Stories

Get weekly ads via e-mail

Featured Businesses