Artful concealment or child’s prank?

Tuesday, February 1, 2022
Toy at PHL MNF

It was just another busy day after the holidays as Philadelphia International Airport (PHL) TSA Officer Ebony Johnson concentrated on the endless flow of images on the X-ray. When suddenly seeing a child’s teddy bear come across her screen, she stopped the belt. The toy bear appeared to have two knives somehow placed inside.

When Johnson sent the bag to be searched, TSA Officer Richard Rivera discovered a stuffed black teddy bear wearing a space-age technology suit and cape. The X-ray image indicated something concealed inside the bear, and upon closer inspection, he noticed the back of the bear showed signs of being re-stitched.

When Rivera called for a supervisor, Lead TSA Officer Basemah Simon, with TSA Manager Michael Hanson and Supervisory TSA Officer Aliya Carter in close pursuit, answered the call. The officers removed the stitches from the back of the bear and pulled out two knives that were artfully concealed inside the toy, hidden in the middle of the bear’s stuffing.

“I can’t believe somebody would try this,” said a surprised Rivera.

TSM Hanson and Officer Rivera photo
PHL TSA Manager Michael Hanson and TSA Officer Richard Rivera scrutinize the X-ray monitor. (Photo by Joseph Hampshire)

Hanson notified police of the artfully concealed knives, saying, “In my 20 years with TSA, I have never seen anything like that.”

Officer Johnson photo
PHL TSA Officer Ebony Johnson concentrates on X-ray images at the checkpoint. (Photo by Joseph Hampshire)

As they waited for police, Simon and Carter inspected the toy more closely. The stitching at the back of the bear was not consistent with the rest of the bear. The white inner seam was re-stitched with yellow thread.

The passenger said she received the toy from the retailer in that condition. When Carter asked the passenger how the knives ended up in the bear, she said her six-year-old son, who is autistic, must have put them there. She said it was a comfort toy, and he sleeps with it every day.

When the police arrived, they took the stuffed animal, the passenger, her traveling companion and son away from the checkpoint for further questioning.

After an FBI interview that lasted for more than one hour, neither the mother nor her son knew how the knives [non-serrated butter utensils] got into the teddy bear. As a result, the FBI reported nothing back to TSA, and TSA Regulatory is taking no further action.

“This is a good example of why we cannot assume that something as innocent-looking as a child’s stuffed animal is not a risk to security,” said PHL TSA Federal Security Director Gerardo Spero. “It was a good catch on the part of our TSA officers.”

By Wayne Carey, TSA Strategic Communications & Public Affairs