Michelle Brademeyer’s 4-year-old daughter Isabella has been waking up with nightmares, terrified by her memories of the people she thought were trying to kidnap her.
Each time, Brademeyer patiently explains that those uniformed grownups who yelled at the weeping child and ordered her mother away weren’t trying to hurt her.
They were trying to protect the country from terrorists.
“But how do you explain the TSA to a little girl?” she wondered.
The Missoula family’s ordeal began earlier this month when they traveled to Wichita, Kan., for a family wedding. On the return trip, Isabella – who had already passed through her security screening in Wichita – darted back to hug her grandmother.
The minute her daughter wrapped her arms around her “Meema,” all hell broke loose, Brademeyer said.
It’s still breaking loose, this time online.
Brademeyer was so steamed when she got back to Missoula that she sat down at her laptop and poured out her frustrations on Facebook.
“My Daughter Was Mistaken for a Terrorist,” she typed on April 17, recounting the incident in a lengthy note.
Brademeyer’s mother had triggered an alarm and was awaiting a pat-down when Isabella ran to her. That’s when Transportation Security Administration officers told Brademeyer her mother could have passed something to her daughter during that brief encounter.
“They said (to Isabella), ‘You need to sit down right now!’ and they told me, ‘She made contact!’ ” Brademeyer said Tuesday afternoon.
In her Facebook note, she wrote, “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 in the opposite direction.
“That is when a TSO told me they would shut down the entire airport, cancel all flights, if my daughter was not restrained. It was then they declared my daughter ‘a high-security threat,’ ” she wrote.
And it was then that Brademeyer disobeyed orders and went after her screaming child and picked her up.
“The TSOs were not pleased,” she wrote.
Things turned surreal when the officers started talking about guns, Brademeyer said.
She pointed out that her daughter was dressed in stretchy tights and clothing with no pockets. But one of the officers repeatedly told Brademeyer that she’d seen guns together with teddy bears. “She mentioned the word ‘gun’ over and over again.”
Brademeyer said her own actions probably didn’t help the situation.
“I absolutely lost my temper the moment when they said, and I quote, ‘The suspect is not cooperating.’ I called one of them an idiot.”
Brademeyer’s note sat around on Facebook for several days, getting a “share” here, a comment there. Then, the Consumerist – a website that partners with Consumer Reports, picked up on her Facebook note Monday. That report was followed up Tuesday by the Daily Mail in England, whose outraged story is listed as one of the most viewed on its website:
“Weeping four-year-old girl accused of carrying a GUN by TSA officers after she hugged her grandmother while passing through security.”
Fox News, MSNBC and others quickly followed. U.S. Rep. Denny Rehberg, R-Mont., tried to contact the family Monday, according to spokesman Jed Link. Rehberg issued a statement Tuesday saying: “Something is clearly very wrong if TSA’s protocol forced them to harass a 4-year-old girl until she cried. I intend to sit down with the TSA immediately and demand some answers.”
U.S. Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont, a member of the Senate Homeland Security Committee, wrote TSA Administrator John Pistole that “I am a staunch advocate for effective transportation security, but I’m also a strong advocate for common sense and the freedoms we enjoy as Americans,” Tester wrote to TSA Administrator John Pistole. He said he hoped to hear from Pistole “what steps will be taken in the future to ensure more common sense when dealing with young children and their parents during necessary airport security screenings.”
Brademeyer, 27, who supports Izzy and her 6-year-old brother Oliver by cleaning houses, said she wasn’t really aware of how quickly the story is spreading.
But she hopes the publicity will help bring some common sense to how the agency handles the youngest and the oldest people who trigger alarms.
“I get it,” she said. “People use kids to transport” drugs and other contraband, she said. “But they scared the hell out of my little girl.”
In her Facebook posts, she cited the TSA’s own policies that state: “TSOs will approach children gently and treat them with respect. If a child becomes uncomfortable or upset, security officers will consult parents about the best way to relieve the child’s concern.”
The TSA did not respond to a Missoulian request for comment by press time Tuesday.
The Consumerist quoted a TSA spokesman as saying the agency “has reviewed the incident and determined that our officers followed proper current screening procedures in conducting a modified pat-down on the child.”
Izzy herself, a laughing child who chased streams of bubbles across her lawn Tuesday, turned somber and ducked her head against her mother’s shoulder when asked about the incident.
It made her sad, she whispered. “And mad.”
As his mother went over the incident again, Oliver turned to her and said, “Do you want me to be president and sign a law?”
“What law would you sign?” she asked.
“I’m going to change the law about what happened,” he vowed.
Reporter Gwen Florio can be reached at 523-5268, firstname.lastname@example.org, or @CopsAndCourts on Twitter.