Missing teen safely found with Alaska TSO’s help

Thursday, June 27, 2024
TSA Officer Michelle Black identified a missing teen at the checkpoint. (Photo courtesy of Ryan Bazydola)

TSA Officer Michelle Black was scrolling social media after her overnight shift at Alaska’s Ted Stevens Anchorage International Airport (ANC) when she saw a post that made her pause: a young man was missing, and he looked familiar.

Exhausted from work, Black went to sleep only to jolt awake remembering why the boy’s face struck a chord. She recognized the missing teen from her most recent shift.

A few hours earlier, just before midnight, Black arrived at the checkpoint when a young man approached her asking for help. The teen had no bags to check in and didn’t know how to find his boarding pass. Black asked if he had the airline’s mobile app on his cell phone. 

“He opened the app, and I saw he had not checked in for his flight,” said Black. “I helped him with the check-in on the app, but for some reason it was not showing his boarding pass after he checked in. I then advised him to go to the ticket counter to get a boarding pass.”

Situational awareness allowed Black to help police find a missing person. (Photo courtesy of Ryan Bazydola)
Situational awareness allowed Black to help police find a missing person. (Photo courtesy of Ryan Bazydola)

About 20 minutes later, the young man returned to Black’s checkpoint, boarding pass in hand. She cleared the teen and complimented his sweater, which had a distinct big yellow smiley face on the front. He thanked her and went on his way.

The interaction played in Black’s mind while she reread the Anchorage Police Department post on Facebook about a missing 17-year-old from Eagle River. She saw the teen’s description that he was likely wearing a sweatshirt with a big yellow smiley face on it. Her heart sank as she realized the connection.

“I immediately thought to call the TSA manager on duty and report that I had seen him the night before,” said Black. “I spoke with TSA Manager Bryttni Juhlin and explained the timeframe and the location where I spoke with the young man.”

From Black’s description of the events, Juhlin found the CCTV footage that showed the teen passing through the security checkpoint. After confirming the young man was the missing teen, Juhlin informed Deputy Assistant Federal Security Director-Screening Ali Naeem of the situation and called the Anchorage Police Department.

After arriving at the airport, police officers collected relevant information and reviewed the footage of the missing teen. Two days later, Black learned the teen was found safely in Seattle.

“This incident just goes to show that every little interaction we have with people can make a difference,” said Black. “It could be a hello, assistance at the checkpoint or even just a smile acknowledging them. I think it is important people understand that our job is more than stopping prohibited items, but also assisting when needed. Officers really do care about the passengers, and we care about their safety and well-being. TSA, as a whole, cares about the community.”

By Kimberlyn Pepe, TSA Strategic Communications & Public Affairs