With a hoodie tied tightly over his face and a baseball cap pulled down over his eyes, the father of a 9-year-old Minneapolis-to-Las Vegas stowaway tearfully begged for help with his willful, troubled son.
The father’s camouflaged appearance Wednesday at a south Minneapolis news conference added another bizarre layer to an already surreal saga. He sounded painfully overwhelmed by his young son’s precocious illegal activities, weeping as he pleaded, “Somebody please help me, please.”
The Minneapolis man, who declined to give his or his son’s name, said the boy didn’t heed advice from him or his mother. “He did what he wanted,” he said.
The news conference was held at the office of the anti-violence group MAD DADS, whose spokesman, V.J. Smith, said the father came to him for help.
Last Thursday, the boy slipped past checkpoints at the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport and managed to board a Delta flight from Minneapolis to Las Vegas without a ticket or an adult companion. His implausible trip triggered a major security investigation at the airport and provoked international reactions that ranged from incredulity to bemusement, fear and concern.
The boy, who remains in protective custody in Nevada, is expected back in Minnesota on Friday.
A day before the flight, he rode light rail to the airport, plucked a piece of luggage off a carousel and scoped out the scene from a restaurant before he walked out without the luggage and without paying for the meal.
Before the boy’s father spoke Wednesday, Smith read a statement from his mother, who works at the airport. She did not attend the news conference. “I love my son. I miss my son. I want my son home,” she said, adding that she has asked for help in the past, but “no one has been willing to help.”
Since last week, the family has spoken with Hennepin County Human Services, which has offered to help, Smith said. Exactly what the boy and the family need is unclear. The father, who works for a bus company, repeatedly spoke of his son’s behavioral problems, including getting in a fight at school that led to a suspension.
‘What can I do?’
The father said he has never been to the airport or on a flight. It was one of many tearful moments when he sounded overwhelmed by his son’s behavior.
The Hennepin County attorney’s office is reviewing the case to determine whether the boy needs to be removed from his home or receive behavioral help. His father said, “I can provide [help] at home. I need the resources.”
The boy’s misdeeds include stealing a delivery truck and crashing into an Edina police car two days before he went to Las Vegas. Because of his age, he can’t be charged with a crime. “When he damaged those cars, I don’t know what was going through my son’s head,” the dad said, adding that his son may have been inspired by the video game Grand Theft Auto, which he played at a friend’s house.
The father said he was at a loss about what to do to make his son behave after that episode. “I didn’t punish him, I didn’t hit him,” he said. Then “he leaves the house on Wednesday [Oct. 2], what can I do?
“He wasn’t listening,” he said. “It was just so much. We were asking for help.”
He said he was at the house when the boy went outside that night, ostensibly to take out the trash, and his mother was at a doctor’s appointment. When she came home and the boy was gone, they assumed he was with friends. The next day, Oct. 3, the mother stayed home from work to try to find him, discovering he wasn’t at friends’ houses.
Cunning, but still a child
The father said the plane episode has been “a heartache” for the family. “We didn’t know he’d got on a plane until my fiancée called the police … it came back that he was in Las Vegas,” he said.
The boy has been suspended several times at school, most recently since Sept. 21 for fighting, the father said. “He’s not an honor student; he has his ups, he has his downs,” he said, adding he met with the principal and “we put in a plan,” but the son’s misbehavior continued.
In an e-mail obtained Monday by the Star Tribune, the area director of the county’s Human Services and Public Health Department told administrators and County Board members that the boy is known to county staff as a “challenging” child. Since December 2012, the county has four times assessed the boy’s family for protective services.
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,” the memo said. Of county interactions with the child, it said, “Typically, staff can tell if a child is lying, but with this child, they are unsure what is going on.”
Now, after the boy’s most dramatic wayward act, his father desperately pleaded for help for the son he hasn’t been able to speak to since last week.
“He’s a 9-year-old child,” he said. “I don’t want to see my son hurt.”