The parents of a 9-year-old who sneaked onto a flight to Las Vegas say they have unsuccessfully sought help for their troubled son.
The boy, who is expected to return to his family Wednesday after being in protective custody in Nevada the past five days, has a history of misbehavior that includes stealing a truck and crashing into a police car two days before the airport incident.
“They’ve tried to get help. But people keep saying [the boy] hasn’t done enough,” said V.J. Smith of anti-violence group MAD DADS, speaking on behalf of the family, which requested not to be identified. “I think he’s done enough now. Maybe he learned his lesson.”
Smith said the family, which moved to Minneapolis seven years ago from Chicago, is overwhelmed by the international attention the boy’s actions have attracted. His father works for a bus company and the mother works for an airline, Smith said. He also said that the mother didn’t help her son get on the Vegas flight, contrary to speculation.
“They’ve been asking for help,” he said. “They’re struggling.”
The boy has a history of sneaking into a Bloomington water park and has come under scrutiny of child protection investigators, according to a county e-mail marked private that was obtained by the Star Tribune on Monday.
And just two days before he sneaked aboard the Vegas flight, he stole a delivery truck near the Minneapolis Farmers Market and led police on a chase before hitting an Edina squad car.
Smith said the boy was imitating a video game. “He’s one of those mischievous kids,” he said.
Mei Deng of United Noodle Wholesale Inc. said one of her employees parked a delivery truck Oct. 1 and ran inside to drop off invoices as he waited for the loading dock to clear. When he returned, the truck was gone.
Minneapolis police and the State Patrol pursued the stolen truck until the boy hit an Edina police squad car parked on Xerxes Avenue about 2:15 p.m. According to the police report, he was detained and taken home despite multiple offenses for stealing a car, damaging property, having an unattended vehicle, reckless driving and not having a valid driver’s license. The officer wasn’t injured, but the crash caused $5,888 in damage to the car, Edina police said.
Police wouldn’t confirm the boy’s identity, but Smith did.
“He’s got issues,” he said, adding that his family also wants people to know that “he’s a bright kid. They love their son, they believe in him. … And they’re good parents.”
The day before the boy boarded a flight to Las Vegas without a ticket or boarding pass, he did a detailed reconnaissance trip at the airport, taking a piece of luggage from a carousel, then ditching it at an airport restaurant after eating there without paying.
Then, on Thursday, to pass through the Transportation Safety Administration checkpoint for his flight, the boy reportedly blended in with a family with children. He was seen on surveillance video chatting with a Delta gate agent, then walking down the jetway when the agent was distracted. The Las Vegas-bound flight had empty seats, and attendants didn’t realize what the boy had done until after takeoff, when his name wasn’t on the flight manifest as an unaccompanied minor.
When the plane landed, the boy was met by local police, arrested and put in a foster home.
A ‘challenging’ child
Janine Moore, area director of the county’s Human Services and Public Health Department, told administrators and County Board members in an e-mail obtained by the Star Tribune that the boy became “violent” and was hospitalized and eventually calmed down.
The boy is known to county staff members as a “challenging” child, she wrote, adding that, since December 2012, they’ve conducted four child-protection assessments on the boy’s family. “The reports have been inconsistent and there have been no injuries to the child; however, there is a pattern of behavior,” she wrote.
The boy also has a “history” of riding light-rail trains to a Bloomington water park, where he “waits until a large family is entering and joins them,” she wrote. Of county interactions with the child, Moore wrote, “Typically, staff can tell if a child is lying, but with this child, they are unsure what is going on.”
Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman’s child protection unit is reviewing the case, a spokesman said. Moore told county administrators that the boy could be removed from his home if he’s been mistreated or he could receive “behavioral health” options. Because of his age, the boy cannot be charged with a crime.