SAN JOSE, Calif. – The mother of the 15-year-old boy who stowed away in a Hawaiian Airlines wheel well says she feels awful that her son risked his life in an attempt to find her and wants to see him again.
Ubah Mohamed Abdullahi, 35, said from a refugee camp in Ethiopia that she blames the teen’s father and stepmother for treating him poorly and making him believe that she died years ago in a rocket attack in Mogadishu, Somalia.
“They killed me in my children’s minds,” Abdullahi told reporters in a call placed by one of the teen’s San Jose relatives. “If I could give a message to my son I would say I am still alive and I will come one day. Please stay calm and do not do anything stupid.”
On Friday, the boy’s father, Abdilahi Yusuf Abdi, told friends gathered at a Santa Clara mosque that he also wants to reunite with his son, Yahya, and bring him home. But he can’t afford to leave his job as a cabdriver until Hawaiian authorities are ready to release him.
Cut off from children
For years, Abdullahi said, her ex-husband and his wife have refused to let her talk to her children, whom she is trying to join in the United States.
She also told the VOA in a radio interview that, “I felt bad that he risked his life. I was told that he did this because of me.”
Abdi is hiring a lawyer to deal with the media and to help address accusations from the mother and a relative that the teen was abused.
Yahya Abdi is the middle of three children born to Abdi’s first wife. Yahya’s father and stepmother have six younger children together.
“Now we’re dealing with so many things. That’s why they got the lawyer,” said Noor Mohamed, a family friend and fellow cabdriver who was among a small group of Somali men who met Abdi after noon prayers at the Muslim Community Association Islamic Center where the family worships.
Yahya remained in a Honolulu hospital, where he still has difficulty breathing, Mohamed said the father told him.
The teen’s ordeal captured international attention after he was discovered on the tarmac at the Maui airport last Sunday. Security cameras there caught images of Yahya’s feet dangling from the wheel well, then of the teen weaving from left to right, disoriented on the tarmac before asking a luggage handler for a bottle of water.
Aviation experts say Yahya may have gone into a “hibernation” state, which allowed him to survive the flight in the wheel well at altitudes of up to 38,000 feet and temperatures that could have dipped as low as 85 degrees below zero.
Mineta-San Jose International Airport officials still have some explaining to do after the teen told Maui authorities he hopped the barbed-wire fence in the darkness and climbed into the wheel well of the nearest plane, which happened to be Hawaii-bound.
The breach, some of which was caught on video, has raised numerous security concerns.
Yahya, whose only personal possession at the Maui airport was a comb in his pocket, told Maui airport officials and the FBI that he ran away after an argument with his father and stepmother.
He said he walked 3 miles to the San Jose airport and explained that he longed to see his birth mother in Africa.