msnbc.com staff and news service reports
updated 12/14/2010 10:53:47 AM ET 2010-12-14T15:53:47

The mother of a North Carolina teenager authorities think may have stowed away in the wheel well of a jetliner before falling to the ground in suburban Boston says her son was afraid of heights.

Jonette Washington told The Boston Globe that 16-year-old Delvonte Tisdale had never flown in his life even though he was a member of the Air Force ROTC in high school. He didn't even like being in tall buildings.

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Tisdale and his younger brother and sister had been living with their father for a year and a half  in Charlotte, N.C., while Washington studies nursing in Baltimore, Md.

"My first instinct was it can’t be true,’" Washington said. "All he had to do was pick up the phone and say, 'Mommy, I’m ready to come home,' and I’d go get him."

She did say he had been more aloof in recent weeks. "I think it was something that was building that nobody actually saw or knew about,"’ Washington said. "Just sounded like something was building and made him get fed up and he was just tired and wanted to leave."

Tisdale's severely damaged body was found in Milton, Mass., on Nov. 15. Investigators say he may have stowed away in the wheel well of a plane at Charlotte and fallen out when the plane lowered its landing gear on approach to Boston.

Last week, Norfolk District Attorney William Keating cited evidence including a handprint in the wheel well, clothes strewn along the plane's flight path and an autopsy report indicating the teen fell "from a significant height."

Along a path a Boston-bound plane would have taken while approaching the city, they found dark sneakers with white stripes and a red shirt matching clothing Tisdale's family said he'd worn, Keating said.

Keating said an autopsy showed trauma to Tisdale's body "was consistent with a fall from a significant height."

He said police also interviewed family members in North Carolina without finding a "scintilla" of evidence of foul play.

Investigators also discovered a handprint in grease inside the wheel well on the left side of a Boeing 737 that took off from Charlotte Douglas International Airport on Nov. 15, the night Tisdale's body was found, Keating said.

Tisdale was a member of the Air Force ROTC program at North Mecklenburg High School near Charlotte.

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His father, Anthony, said the family had moved from Greensboro to Charlotte in the summer just so the teen could join that program. Anthony Tisdale said his son was happy in Charlotte and stayed out of trouble.

But Delvonte Tisdale's brother, Anthony Tisdale Jr., said his brother was unhappy in North Carolina and had never wanted to leave Baltimore, where he had lived earlier.

Keating said Tisdale was last seen by a sibling at home in North Carolina at 1:30 a.m. The flight he's believed to have boarded took off at about 7 p.m. that evening, and investigators confirmed flight times and paths with the Federal Aviation Administration, he said.

Just before 9 p.m., someone who lived near where the body was found heard a loud crashing noise, Keating said. At 9:30 p.m., Tisdale's body was discovered without shirt or shoes by a group of college students in Milton, an affluent Boston suburb.

Keating said his office first tried to determine if Tisdale was a crime victim. The body was found after apparently being run over by a Jeep and then an Audi, and investigators found blood and tissue on the undercarriage of both vehicles. But Keating said there was no proof of a hit-and-run, Keating said.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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