Written by Tim Potter for The Wichita Eagle
Michelle Brademeyer says Transportation Security Administration officers at Wichita’s airport treated her 4-year-old daughter like a terrorist.
The TSA says its officers followed proper procedures, and the agency denies part of Brademeyer’s version of what happened around noon April 15 at Wichita Mid-Continent Airport.
In an interview with The Eagle on Tuesday, Brademeyer said she is telling her story, which has drawn attention from overseas media after she wrote about it on her Facebook page, “because other kids shouldn’t be treated like this.”
In a detailed e-mail and in the interview, the 27-year-old said it happened like this: She, her 4-year-old daughter, Isabella, and her 6-year-old son, Oliver, were in the Wichita airport, headed back to Montana after her brother’s wedding at Exploration Place. The children’s maternal grandmother was taking the same flight on her way back to California. The children went through security screening with no problem, but their grandmother set off the alarm. Officers asked the grandmother to sit to the side and wait for a pat-down.
That’s when Isabella saw her grandmother and “excitedly ran over to give her a hug, as children often do,” Brademeyer said. Their contact lasted a few seconds, she said.
But the transportation security officers “responded to this very simple action in the worst way imaginable,” she said.
A female officer started “yelling at my child and demanded she too must sit down and await a full body pat-down.” Her daughter responded by putting her hands over her face and crying.
“I was prevented from coming any closer, explaining the situation to her, or consoling her in any way. – It was implied, several times, that my mother, in their brief two-second embrace, had passed a handgun to my daughter.”
The TSA wouldn’t respond to questions Tuesday but provided a statement to The Eagle, saying, “In this case – the child had completed screening but had contact with another member of her family who had not completed the screening process. While it was explained to family members why additional security procedures were necessary in this instance, TSA officers did not suspect or suggest the child was carrying a firearm,” the statement said.
“TSA has reviewed the incident and determined that our officers followed proper current screening procedures in conducting a modified pat-down on the child.”
Brademeyer said she has filed an official complaint about the incident, and TSA said any complaint would be followed up by a customer service representative, who would give Brademeyer a response. She said she got the response and that it mirrored the statement The Eagle received.
TSA said it has recently begun “modified screening procedures of children 12 and under that will further reduce the need for a physical pat-down for children. These new screening procedures include permitting multiple passes through the metal detector and advanced imaging technology to clear any alarms. – These changes in protocol will ultimately reduce – though not eliminate – pat-downs of children.”
Brademeyer said her daughter “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.”
An officer told Brademeyer “they would shut down the entire airport, cancel all flights, if my daughter was not restrained.” She said the officers referred to her daughter as a “security threat.”
Brademeyer was so upset, she disregarded the officers and ran to her daughter and picked her up and tried to comfort her. “The TSOs were not pleased. I was forced to set my child down,” she said, and the officers brought the girl to a side room for a pat-down. Brademeyer followed. She said her daughter, who had recently learned about “stranger danger” in preschool, was “shaking and crying uncontrollably. – My heart was breaking.”
“Perhaps I am an over-protective mother,” she said.
Most of the mistreatment came from two female security officers, she said.
One of the officers repeated that in the past she had seen “a gun in a teddy bear” and “seemed convinced my child was concealing a weapon,” Brademeyer said. They were treating her daughter as if she “was not only a tool in a terrorist plot, but actually in on it,” she said. “They did not treat her like – she was a scared, 4-year-old girl.”
She said one officer “loomed over my daughter, with an angry grimace on her face, and ordered the frightened child to stop crying.”
When she heard the officers saying “the suspect is not cooperating,” Brademeyer said she “lost it.”
She admitted, “I lost my temper,” calling one of the officers “an idiot.”
A third officer arrived, and “they told me I had to exit the airport,” she said.
The situation began to improve when a manager intervened and said her daughter could be cleared through security while crying, and she was allowed to hold her daughter while an officer checked her daughter.
“When they found nothing hidden on my daughter, they were forced to let us go,” after closely checking her ID and boarding passes, she said. The TSOs followed her through the airport to the gate.
Brademeyer said that since the experience, her daughter has had nightmares about being kidnapped.
Lori Croft, Isabella’s 51-year-old grandmother who witnessed the incident, said she and her daughter “completely understand” the need for airport security, “especially after 9/11.” But “common sense was not a factor” in how the officers treated her granddaughter, Croft said.
“She was treated with a blanket suspicion because of that brief little hug she gave me.” Isabella wore leggings and a T-shirt that would have made it difficult to conceal anything, Croft said.
Brademeyer said that if the officers had showed some understanding with her 4-year-old, “we probably wouldn’t be talking right now.”