We’ve all seen something like this in an airport or somewhere else in public. An excited child sees a grandmother and impulsively runs over to hug her. It’s sweet and loving and it makes most of us happy.
For the thuggish bureaucrats of the TSA in Wichita, Kansas, though, it was enough to make a soon-to-be-crying 4-year-old girl into a “suspect,” according to a mother who told her daughter’s story in a poignant and scary Facebook post.
Michelle Brademeyer was traveling with her two children — ages 4 and 6 — from Montana to Kansas for a wedding. Brademeyer’s mother (the children’s grandmother) was on the trip. The kids don’t get to see their grandmother that often, because she lives in California. This was their first time to travel together.
As the family was waiting to leave Wichita on the way back home, they went through security. Brademeyer and the children went through the scanners without problem, but something on the older woman was triggering the scanner, so she was told to sit to the side to wait for a pat-down search.
As the grandmother sat alone, Brademeyer’s 4-year-old daughter saw her sitting and ran over to give her a hug. (That’s her in the blue dress above.) It wasn’t more than a few seconds, but a TSA agent started screaming at the child. Agents wouldn’t allow the girl’s mother to come get her, because they said she must go through a pat-down now, too. They implied that the grandmother might have passed a gun to the now-crying 4-year-old.
When the TSA agents tried to force the girl to spread her arms and legs for a search, the frightened girl took off running. According to Brademeyer, “That is when a [transportation security officer] told me they would shut down the entire airport, cancel all flights, if my daughter was not restrained. It was then they declared my daughter a ‘high-security threat.'”
After Brademeyer disobeyed TSA orders not to pick up and comfort her daughter, it was time for the forced search of the little girl. Brademeyer describes it:
I was forced to set my child down, they brought her into a side room to administer a pat-down, I followed. My sweet 4-year-old child was shaking and crying uncontrollably, she did not want to stand still and let strangers touch her. My heart was breaking. I will never forget the look of pure terror on her face. A [TSA agent] began repeating that in the past she had “seen a gun in a teddy bear.” The [agent] seemed utterly convinced my child was concealing a weapon, as if there was no question about it. Worse still, she was treating my daughter like she understood how dangerous this was, as if my daughter was not only a tool in a terrorist plot, but actually in on it. The [agent] loomed over my daughter, with an angry grimace on her face, and ordered her to stop crying. When my scared child could not do so, two [officers] called for backup saying, “The suspect is not cooperating.” The suspect, of course, being a frightened child. They treated my daughter no better than if she had been a terrorist. It was an awful sight.
When the Consumerist blog contacted the TSA for a comment, the agency didn’t believe anything had been done wrong. Naturally. Here’s the statement the agency gave:
TSA has recently implemented modified screening procedures of children 12 and under that further reduce — though not eliminate — the need for a physical pat-down for children. In this case, however, the child had completed screening but had contact with another member of her family who had not completed the screening process. TSA has reviewed the incident and determined that our officers followed proper current screening procedures in conducting a modified pat-down on the child.
If you have a Facebook account, you can read Brademeyer’s entire account for yourself. If not, I’m repeating her entire post with no editing below. This is the sort of thing that more people need to know about.
I’m under no illusion that a federal agency is suddenly going to start caring about human beings just because we publicize something such as this, but I do think the outraged public can demand better treatment in at least some small ways. The thugs who treated this family in this way deserve punishment and retraining at the very least, although I’d be happy to see them fired from their jobs.
The whole idea behind the “security theatre” of what TSA does is badly flawed. There’s no reason these people should be given license to terrorize children just because we refuse to put a leash and muzzle on the people who are supposed to be our servants.
If you have your own stories about being treated poorly by the TSA, feel free to share them with us in the comments. We need to shed light on a very ugly thing that’s going on in this country today.
My Daughter Was Mistaken For a Terrorist
by Michelle Brademeyer on Tuesday, April 17, 2012 at 8:02pm
Last weekend I traveled to Wichita, Kansas to see my older brother get married. It was a beautiful wedding, and the reception was fantastic, despite that it took place during one of the worse storms Kansas has seen in thirteen years. In fact, we ended up spending a portion of the reception inside a tornado shelter. When we began our trip home the next morning, I figured tornadoes were the most intimidating thing we would encounter on vacation.
I had no idea how wrong I was.
My two young children, aged four and six, were particularly excited their Grandmother was catching the same flight out of Wichita. Since she lives in California, and we live in Montana, they’ve never had a chance to fly with her. Tired and eager to return home, we began passing through security. My children and I went through without an incident. My Mother, however, had triggered the alarm. She was asked to go through the scanners again, and when the source of the alarm could not be identified she was told to sit aside and await a pat-down. All of this was perfectly routine.
When my Four-year-old daughter noticed her Grandmother, she excitedly ran over to give her a hug, as children often do. They made very brief contact, no longer than a few seconds. The Transportation Security Officers(TSO) who were present responded to this very simple action in the worst way imaginable.
First, a TSO began yelling at my child, and demanded she too must sit down and await a full body pat-down. I was prevented from coming any closer, explaining the situation to her, or consoling her in any way. My daughter, who was dressed in tight leggings, a short sleeve shirt and mary jane shoes, had no pockets, no jacket and nothing in her hands. The TSO refused to let my daughter pass through the scanners once more, to see if she too would set off the alarm. It was implied, several times, that my Mother, in their brief two-second embrace, had passed a handgun to my daughter.
My child, who was obviously terrified, had no idea what was going on, and the TSOs involved still made no attempt to explain it to her. When they spoke to her, it was devoid of any sort of compassion, kindness or respect. They told her she had to come to them, alone, and spread her arms and legs. She screamed, “No! I don’t want to!” then did what any frightened young child might, she ran the opposite direction.
That is when a TSO told me they would shut down the entire airport, cancel all flights, if my daughter was not restrained. It was then they declared my daughter a “high-security-threat”.
Two TSOs were following her and again I was told to have no contact with my child. At this point, I was beyond upset, I disregarded what the TSO had said to me, and I ran to my daughter. I picked her up. I hugged her. I tried to comfort her.
The TSOs were not pleased.
I was forced to set my child down, they brought her into a side room to administer a pat-down, I followed. My sweet four-year-old child was shaking and crying uncontrollably, she did not want to stand still and let strangers touch her. My heart was breaking. I will never forget the look of pure terror on her face. A TSO began repeating that in the past she had “seen a gun in a teddy bear.” The TSO seemed utterly convinced my child was concealing a weapon, as if there was no question about it. Worse still, she was treating my daughter like she understood how dangerous this was, as if my daughter was not only a tool in a terrorist plot, but actually in on it. The TSO loomed over my daughter, with an angry grimace on her face, and ordered her to stop crying. When my scared child could not do so, two TSOs called for backup saying “The suspect is not cooperating.” The suspect, of course, being a frightened child. They treated my daughter no better than if she had been a terrorist.
It was an awful sight.
A third TSO arrived to the scene, and showed no more respect than the first two had given. All three were barking orders at my daughter, telling her to stand still and cease crying. When she did not stop crying on command, they demanded we leave the airport. They claimed they could not safely check my daughter for dangerous items if she was in tears. I will admit, I lost my temper.
Finally, a manager intervened. He determined that my child could, in fact, be cleared through security while crying. I was permitted to hold her while the TSO checked her body. When they found nothing hidden on my daughter, they were forced to let us go, but not until after they had examined my ID and boarding passes for a lengthy amount of time. When we arrived at our gate, I noticed that the TSOs had followed us through the airport. I was told something was wrong with my boarding pass and I would have to show it to them again. Upon seeing the TSO, my daughter was thrown into hysterics. Eventually, we were able to board our flight.
My daughter is very shaken up about this, and has been waking up with nightmares.
What should have been a very minor, routine security check was turned into a horrific ordeal. All of this could easily have been prevented if the TSO involved had used a little bit of compassion and a smidgen of common sense. There is no reason for any child to go through this, and while I completely understand the necessity of tight airport security, I fail to see how harassing a small child will provide safety for anyone.
I feel compelled to share this story in the hope that no other child will have to share in this experience.
Excerpt from TSA policies:
“TSA will not ask travelers to do anything that will separate them from their child or children.
TSA specially trains Transportation security officers (TSOs) and they understand travelers’ concern for their children. TSOs will approach children gently and treat them with respect. If a child becomes uncomfortable or upset, security officers will consult parents about the best way to relieve the child’s concern.”
Note: Since this article was published, Brademeyer has made her Facebook post private, so the link is no longer functioning. Here’s a link to her Facebook profile. If you have questions or any follow-up about this issue, a private message there might be your best best. I don’t have any other way of contacting her.