Hennepin County steps in to help 9-year-old stowaway

  • Article by: ROCHELLE OLSON , Star Tribune
  • Updated: October 11, 2013 - 11:23 PM

The 9-year-old who sneaked onto a Delta flight to Las Vegas will be evaluated for health treatment and social services.

The 9-year-old boy who gained national notoriety when he hitched a flight from the Twin Cities to Las Vegas without a ticket will become the focus of intensive Hennepin County social services when he gets back to Minneapolis.

The county attorney’s office filed a petition “for a child in need of protective services” Friday, detailing a monthslong pattern of running away and behavior that would be considered criminal if he were older.

The petition starts a process of determining the child’s future — whether he should be removed from his home or, more likely, receive intensive mental and behavioral health treatment to address aggression, outbursts of anger, running away and theft.

His mother reported that he has “behavior issues” and is seeing a therapist; “however, it appears their last session was on Aug. 13,” the petition said.

The boy’s misbehavior escalated last summer when he started “not coming home” and “walking out when he was mad,” according to his mother, who is named in the petition and cited as being willing to work with county services on evaluating and treating her child.

On Oct. 3, the boy was able to subvert security checkpoints at the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport and board a flight to Las Vegas without a ticket. In subsequent days, his father publicly pleaded for help with his son’s behavior and revealed a troubled history reflected by the petition released Friday.

The boy and his parents are identified by name in the document, but the Star Tribune doesn’t identify juveniles in protection or criminal matters. The parents, who moved to the Twin Cities from Illinois several years ago, do not have criminal records in Minnesota, the petition said.

The boy’s ability to outmaneuver federal security prompted a review of policies at the Twin Cities airport. A spokeswoman for the Transportation Security Administration said Friday that the agency conducted a video review that found the boy was screened along with other passengers to “ensure he was not a threat to the aircraft.”

The agency has since made “minor modifications” to the layout of the document-checking area of the TSA checkpoint, she said. That area precedes the physical screening.

It wasn’t known Friday whether the boy was back in Minnesota. Upon his return, a hearing will be held on whether he should go home or elsewhere to receive care. The hearing will be open, but a date has not been set. The boy and his parents will have lawyers at the session advocating for them.

Whatever the decision at that hearing, the boy’s future is likely to include substantial county intervention and supervision. The petition essentially kick-starts the process and allows the county to begin working with the family and paying for services.

Spiraling out of control

The court petition reveals an increasingly troubling situation. His mother said the boy had been suspended from school this year because of “aggressive behavior.” She said that when she worked, her son would go to work with his father. When she was not at work, the boy stayed home with her, the petition said.

If the boy got upset, he usually went “to a nearby playground or to a friend’s home without permission,” his mother reported. He also had “a tendency to spend the night at people’s houses without permission,” the petition said.

She told the social worker that she had not used “physical discipline,” that she was willing to work with protective services and that she “supports an evaluation for placement” of the boy.

The boy is too young to be charged with a crime — for now. He turns 10 in January, and if he were to commit crimes after that, he could be deemed delinquent and subject to the jurisdiction of the juvenile courts.

Friday’s petition detailed previous incidents, including child protection and police encounters.

On the afternoon of Aug. 3, the boy left home to go to the library. He had not returned by 10 p.m., when his mother went to sleep. She called police at 1:30 p.m. the following day, but found her son at a park a few minutes later. The petition said the mother “declined community-based family assessment services” at the time.

On Sept. 18, the boy was found unsupervised in the Midtown YWCA swimming pool at closing time. When police came, he refused to give his name or reveal who his parents are. He was taken to St. Joseph’s Home for Children, the petition said.

The next day, a child protection investigation was conducted and the boy’s mother reported that he had previously “disappeared” during a trip to the downtown Target store. He was seen on security video leaving the store. Police were called, but the protection case was closed “without a finding of maltreatment,” the petition said.

On Oct. 1, the boy stole a delivery truck in downtown Minneapolis and drove down Interstate 35W toward Edina, damaging other vehicles. The petition said he was “uncooperative with police” when caught, but was returned to his mother.

Last Wednesday, airport police filed a theft report after the child ate a meal at a restaurant, then left without paying. He also left behind a bag he had taken off a luggage carousel, the petition said.

Hennepin County opened a child protection investigation the next day, after his flight to Las Vegas. He’d passed through a TSA security checkpoint and boarded a Delta flight. No one noticed he was an unaccompanied minor without a ticket until the plane was airborne.

Upon arrival in Las Vegas, he was turned over to child protection authorities, but he became “aggressive” and was put into a hospital, then transferred to a residential facility.

Rochelle Olson • 612-673-1747 @rochelleolson

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