9-year-old’s cunning impresses many
January 19, 2007
SEATTLE (AP) ” As a little boy waits in a Texas home for runaways after taking a car and hopping two flights to San Antonio before being stopped, federal and airline officials are scrambling to determine just how he did it.
There’s little information being offered up in the case of 9-year-old Semaj Booker, whose journey began when he allegedly stole a car in the Tacoma suburb of Lakewood on his apparent quest to join his grandfather in Dallas.
The one thing police, prosecutors and others will freely admit to is that the little guy is super smart.
On Friday, Semaj was being held at a center for runaways in Bexar County, Texas, likely until his grandfather or another guardian can take custody of him, said Fred Wist, Pierce County deputy prosecutor.
Wist has filed charges against Semaj in connection with a high-speed pursuit in a stolen car Sunday on Highway 512.
Authorities say Semaj, who had run away before, eluded police at speeds of 80-90 mph until he took an exit and the engine blew.
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The boy was returned home to his mother in Lakewood. By early Monday, he was off again.
“Fairly sophisticated for a 9 year old,” said Wist, who has not sought a warrant for Semaj, preferring to see what his mother’s plans are.
It’s too early, he said, to say whether his office will proceed with charges if Semaj is returned to Washington state.
“We need to see what kind of long-term placement plans they have for him,” Wist said.
Semaj’s mother, Sakinah Booker, 29, retained Tacoma lawyer Brett Purtzer on Thursday.
Purtzer did not return several messages left by The Associated Press.
Booker, who has three other children, has said her son dislikes the Lakewood neighborhood where the family lives and is afraid of a sex offender who lives nearby.
Wist said Friday that investigators confirmed a sex offender was living in the area, but there had been no reports of any contact with the child.
Calls to Booker’s home rang unanswered both Thursday and Friday.
The 80-pound, 4-foot-9 fourth-grader managed to talk his way onto two flights, from Seattle to Phoenix and then to San Antonio.
Southwest Airlines said Semaj presented himself as a 12-year-old, and therefore would not have been listed as an unaccompanied minor. He requested a boarding pass, saying that his mother was already in the boarding area.
“The young man’s information matched a paid, ticketless reservation for the flight. Based on the information he gave us, he was issued a boarding pass,” Southwest said.
Semaj was finally stopped by Southwest Airline employees at San Antonio International Airport while trying to board a flight to Dallas. Officials said he did not have information that matched a reservation.
Southwest Airlines spokeswoman Marilee McInnis on Friday said the airline was “still looking into” how Semaj made his way through security and onto the airplane.
“This is such an unusual situation, there’s a lot of facets to it that we’re looking into,” McInnis said.
The Transportation Security Administration was working with Southwest Airlines to find out more details, said Jennifer Peppin, a spokeswoman for the agency.
She noted that the boy had a proper boarding pass, which is necessary to clear federal screening. How he came about getting that pass from Southwest Airlines was “their issue,” Peppin said.
U.S. Rep. Norm Dicks, D-Wash., asked TSA to review the circumstances to determine how the boy got another passenger’s name to board the flight, Dick’s spokesman George Behan said Friday.
“As Norm says, we spend billions of dollars inconveniencing the American public and making things safe ” we think,” Behan said. “Then a 9-year-old comes walking through.”