Maya Hughes thought one day to share her life story on Twitter and had no idea that her thread would become viral in just a day. She’d soon show up at a special TV Show to tell her story, but what she didn’t know was that a reunion was set up so that her savior would finally be able to see her once again after so many years.
The mother was going through a life-and-death situation and had to take her daughter out of Sierra Leone. But she couldn’t go with her, so she relieved on the kindness of an American stranger. While the story sounds like a perfect movie plot, but it really happened 15 years ago!

20. The Mother Took A Huge Leap of Fate

Zee Sesay was living in America until one day, she decided to go back to her birth country, Sierra Leone. She wanted to learn about her background and visit her grandmother from her father’s side. She took little Maya with her, but around four months after their stay, the mother realized that the civil war her country had just emerged from was not safe for them. Then one night, a fire broke out in Maya’s room.

19. Hoping For The Best

Sesay decided that her daughter would have been safer back in the US, but she only had enough money for one plane ticket. Sesay hoped for the best and took her daughter to the airport. She planned to send Maya back to Maryland to her grandmother. Little Maya needed to be accompanied by a grown-up, and her mother had to stay in Sierra Leona for a longer time. Then, Sesay decides to do something crazy.

18. She Purchased the Ticket for Maya

Sesay bought the plane ticket for Maya and then asked the person at the check in to show her who flew to the U.S. The employee didn’t want to answer but finally gave in, and showed her a young man that was behind them. Sesay approached him…

17. Sesay Headed Towards Him

In an interview with the media, Sesay recalls her first discussion with the American: “I walked over to this gentleman and asked if he could travel with Maya,” she said, adding that “at first he said no, saying he was traveling to the US for a funeral.” The man was going to his grandmother’s funeral.

16. She Begged Him to Reconsider

After begging him, the man finally accepted, and Sesay hoped she took the right decision. She then said:
“I stood by and watched the plane take off and not realizing I had handed my kid off to a complete stranger.”

15. “I Never Again Saw This Man”

“I wasn’t in the right state of mind, and I wasn’t thinking properly…and that was the end of it. I never again saw this man,” though Sesay in those moments. Maya was traumatized by the entire ordeal, seeing she was handed to a complete stranger, and her mother wouldn’t accompany her!

14. Vague Memories

Fortunately, now 20 years old, has only a few memories of the day she got on the plane with the kind (and confused) American. She recalls there was “a lot of chaos and crying nonstop on the plane.” She also remembers he started singing in Krio to make her feel better: “I remember being scared at the airport. And I definitely remember Tom and Tom’s singing. And I remember he never lost patience with me.”

Who was this mystery man, and was she able to reach out to him?

13. A 20-hour Flight

It wasn’t a smooth journey, as the plane had to make a stop at Cote D’Ivoire, then Brussels and finally to the Washington Dulles International Airport in Virginia. It took 20 long hours of crying and singing until Maya was reunited with her grandmother that was waiting for her.
That was the last time Maya saw the man, but the story is far from being over!

12. Who Was This Man? / Tom Periello

Although they were never able to forget the experience, neither Maya nor her mother knew the stranger’s name. Around six years ago, she told her cousin this story, and then it all started to unfold. This cousin said she heard the same story from a former colleague she worked with. Years passed, and her cousin finally contacted the man. His name was Tom Perriello. They began searching for him…

11. Looking for Tom

Sesay started looking for Tom Perriello, searching email addresses and after emailing the right address, he replied that he was indeed the person that flew with the 5-year-old girl. He then revealed a lot of things that took place on the plane, and Maya was more than excited to learn more!

10. Who Is Mr. Perriello?

Perriello was a congressman from Virginia, and he now is the executive director of the Open Society Foundation. Back then, he was a young lawyer, in Sierra Leone working on a war crimes court. He shared part of the story on Twitter as well, saying that it was definitely “one of the craziest experiences of my entire life.”

9. A Desperate Mother

He said to the reporters that he was flying to the U.S. for an emergency – his grandmother’s funeral. After he finally accepted to escort the kid of the desperate mother, he realized it wasn’t that easy:

“There was some serious drama on each leg of the trip, as there should have been under the circumstances, but we worked with officials and some angels at the airlines to make sure Maya got home safely to her grandmother’s care.” He also paid a heavy price for his kind deed…

8. He Missed His Grandmother’s Funeral

Because he had to land and make sure that Maya would get in her grandmother’s care, Perriello missed the connecting flight, and couldn’t attend his grandmother’s funeral. Nonetheless, he did admit that “one of the happier moments in my life was seeing Maya run into her grandmother’s arms.”

He never forgot those moments and shared the story with some friends, and this is how Maya’s cousin learned who was the mystery American that made it all possible. Wait until you see Maya’s reaction when she sees Tom for the first time in 15 years!

7. Saying Thank You

“He’s a genuinely good person, which is something we don’t have a lot of anymore. If it wasn’t for him I don’t know how I would’ve made it back. We’ve been trying to find him because we never really got to say thank you,” said Maya in an interview. Little did she know that CBS was planning to make the reunion possible!

6. “Looking for This Ghost”

Sesay added that it took her 15 years to finally find this “ghost” that eluded her until now. “I hope to meet with him to get the opportunity to shake his hand, hug him, and thank him for having done that.”

Perriello recalled that on the flight from Côte d’Ivoire to Brussels, the little girl finally fell asleep on both of their chairs: “I knew enough about children not to wake her. So I spent most of the flight just walking up and down the aisle, so I didn’t wake Maya up.”

5. Meeting Her Grandmother

“I remember seeing my grandma and running to her. And then Tom, he just disappeared. And for 15 years he’s been a ghost. I never knew his full name,” said Maya. Meanwhile, although Tom lost his grandmother’s funeral, he knew that she was smiling down, seeing Maya reunite with her own grandmother.
And talking about heartwarming reunions…

4. The Reunion after 15 Years

One month after Maya was sent to her grandmother, Sesay joined her daughter, looking for the kind man that helped save her daughter’s life. Fifteen years later, CBS reunited the trio!

3. A Lot Of Hugs and Tears

As Maya and Sesay were heading towards the set for an interview in New York, they saw a familiar face. It was Tom, coming over for a group hug that seemed never to end.
“You have lots of reasons to say no to something and there are moments to say yes. And I’m really glad that I did in that case as crazy as it was,” Perriello said.

2. He Saved Her Life

“I don’t want to cry, but I’m really emotional about it, ’cause I feel like he saved my life, because, if I would have stayed, it’s, I don’t know where I would have been,” Maya said in front of the cameras, tears welling up in her eyes.

1. It Was Meant To Be

“I think it was destiny ’cause it could have been anybody, and anything could have happened and he brought me back here. So, I don’t think I can say thank you, really,” she added. Tom, Sesay, and Maya agreed that their reunion was going to be the beginning of a very long friendship.