A toddler is back with his mother this week due to a quick-thinking TSA officer and great teamwork between TSA and police departments in Charlotte and Orlando.
At approximately 3 p.m. on September 17, Charlotte Douglas International Airport (CLT) officer Erika Gaona – only on the job for two months – observed a male and female passenger with three small children approaching the opposite travel document checker podium. Moments later, Gaona realized that she recognized one of the children from a Facebook post where a mother was asking for the public’s help in locating her son and pleading for his safe return. The two-year-old boy had been taken by his father, though full custody had been granted to the child’s mother, and law enforcement was actively engaged in trying to track down the father to return the child to the mother.
After Gaona alerted floor leadership to the situation that was unfolding, TSA and Charlotte Mecklenburg Police Department (CMPD) search teams were quickly dispersed throughout the airport in an attempt to locate the group that included the child. After their initial search came up empty, the teams relied on CCTV footage to confirm that the suspect and boy had already departed for Orlando International Airport (MCO) on a Spirit flight.
Fortunately, Charlotte Assistant Federal Security Director for Law Enforcement (AFSD-LE) Gary Thompson already enjoyed an excellent working relationship with MCO AFSD-LE Luis Rosado. Thompson was able to instantly relay flight information and court paperwork provided by CMPD to Rosado, who in turn gave it to Orlando Police Department officers waiting at the gate for the arrival of the Spirit flight.
When the flight arrived in Orlando, OPD officers conducted a welfare check on the boy and the other children and showed the court order to the father, who consented to turning over the boy to the Florida Department of Children and Families to facilitate his return to his mother.
The American Airlines Global Investigations (corporate security) team in CLT was able to help the mother get a seat on the next flight to Orlando, and at approximately 10:30 p.m. she was met by OPD officers who reunited her with her son. After four months of not knowing if she would ever see her son again, the mother regained physical custody of the boy and expressed her gratitude to the team effort by everyone in North Carolina and Florida – especially rookie officer Gaona.
“This is an example of the critical thinking skills our Officers apply to the screening of each and every passenger coming through the security checkpoint – and also the extensive coordination we exercise every day with our security partners,” said Charlotte Federal Security Director Kevin F. Frederick. “In this instance, it made for a very happy ending for both mother and son.”
This week on September 25, the mother, Amber George, and her son reunited in Charlotte with the CLT team who coordinated with MCO to recover the boy. George thanked everyone for helping her during her harrowing four months of trying to recover her son.
Coincidentally, September 25 was designated by DHS as “If You See Something, Say Something®” Awareness Day to further increase the public's awareness of how to recognize and report suspicious activity throughout the year. The TSA employees and private sector partners highlighted in this story truly embody the spirit of See Something, Say Something®.