Father of child stowaway: ‘How is this possible?’

V J smith on the right.  Father is next to him. (MPR Photo/Brandt Williams)

The boy who stowed away on a flight to Las Vegas started his journey by saying he was taking out the trash and then disappearing, his father said at a press conference today.

“He’s not a terrorist; he’s a 9-year-old child. He went through screening. He boarded the plane. How is that possible?’’ said the father, who agreed to answer questions from the press but wore a hat and hooded sweatshirt to conceal his identity.

He answered questions sitting beside V.J Smith who leads the Minneapolis Chapter of MAD DADS. Smith said the group is supporting the family’s efforts to get help for the boy.

Law enforcement officials confirmed the boy evaded security at the Minneapolis-St.Paul International Airport on Thursday and boarded a Delta airlines flight to Las Vegas.

The father said at the news conference that it was the first time his son had ever been on an airplane.

“I’m a parent; I’m not perfect,” the father said. “We assumed he was at a friend’s house. We had no idea where he was.”

The boy’s father says his son had been suspended from school for fighting on Sept. 21, about a week before the latest trouble began. During that time, he said he brought his son to work with him and watched him do his homework.

Police say that on Oct. 1 the boy stole a United Noodle panel truck and led police on a chase that resulted in damage to a squad car and an SUV.

The boy’s father said he’s just glad no one was hurt.

“When he damaged those cars, I didn’t know what was going on inside my son’s head,” he said. “I just hoped and prayed that nobody got hurt.  It could have been worse than it is. I thank the Lord that it’s not.”

The man said when the police brought his son home, they told him his son thought he was playing “Grand Theft Auto,” a video game that allows players to race through the streets of virtual cities, smash into cars and shoot automatic weapons at computer generated people. He told officers he wanted to physically discipline his son, but they told him they’d take him to jail if he struck the boy.

“If I whip my son I get locked up,” the boy’s father said. “If I let my son keep on doing what he’s doing, I get in trouble.  Somebody please help me.  Please!”

The family had attempted to get help from police with the boy’s behavior in the past, the father said, but without success.

“He wasn’t listening,” the man said. “[He does] what he wants to do. It’s too much. We asked for help.”

When the parents realized their son had gone on Thursday, the father said they tried to track him down.

After the boy didn’t come home that night, his mother took the day off from work and called around to her son’s friends to track him down, Smith said.

The boy’s father said his son pretended that he was with another family with children at the airport and managed to hide from security officers.  The man says he can’t believe his son made it through airport security and got on a plane.

“How would you let a 9-year-old child go through a security check, without stopping him and questioning him, he said.  How can that be?”

In a statement on Monday, Delta Air Lines officials said the airline is reviewing its policies and procedures to make sure a similar incident doesn’t happen. But they have not provided additional details.

During the flight, the plane’s crew became suspicious and handed him over to authorities in Las Vegas.

Transportation Security Administration officials say the boy was screened along with other passengers to ensure that he was not a threat.

The boy was taken into custody when he landed in Las Vegas.  Smith said he expects the boy will be brought back to Minnesota.  He said the boy is expected to be released to his parents, not to a foster home.

MPR News Reporter Brandt Williams contributed to this report.