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TSA apologizes after family told wheelchair-bound daughter would get pat-down

The family poses at Disney World
A family photo at Disney World following their TSA misadventure.Nathan Forck

The Transportation Security Administration has apologized after the family of a wheelchair-bound 3-year-old girl with spina bifida was pulled aside and told she would receive a pat-down.

The family was heading to Disney World when the incident took place on February 9. It was "really strange and stressful," said Nathan Forck, the girl's father.

His daughter, Lucy, was taking her first big airline trip. "She didn't know what to expect," he said. "She was pretty upset."

In a video taken by her mother and posted on YouTube with the title "Shh! TSA Wants to Touch Your Kids," Lucy appears visibly distraught. Sitting in her hot pink wheelchair, Lucy weeps, crying for her stuffed lamb doll. A TSA agent can be overheard telling Lucy's mother, Annie Shulte, to stop her "illegal" recording. There is discussion by the agents over whether to give Lucy a pat-down.

The video has been viewed more than 136,000 times.

"TSA regrets inaccurate guidance was provided to this family during screening and offers its apology," the agency wrote in an email. "We are committed to maintaining the security of the traveling public and strive to treat all passengers with dignity and respect. While no pat-down was performed, we will address specific concerns with our work force.”

Furthermore, TSA policy does not prohibit passengers from taking photos or videos at screening locations as long as they're not interfering with or slowing down the process.

The trouble apparently began with mom's earrings.

According to Nathan, Annie was pushing Lucy through security when alarms were tripped by her metallic earrings. In the case of a passenger in a wheelchair, "a pat-down procedure is used to resolve any alarms of a metal detector," TSA says on its website.

It may have appeared to the agents that it was Lucy who set it off, not Annie.

After 30 minutes of tense isolation as agents and supervisors discussed options, Annie proposed carrying Lucy through security while agents swabbed the wheelchair separately.

Ultimately, Nathan said, agents agreed, and the family was on its way to the Magic Kingdom.

A family photo at Disney World following their TSA misadventure.Nathan Forck

Annie uploaded the video to YouTube on Saturday. The couple tweeted about it, with Annie writing, "STOP letting TSA touch your kids! Here's a vid of them trying 2 touch mine #enoughisenough." Nathan also tweeted, "Stop letting TSA THUGS touch your kids." The video quickly gained traction.

The detention was, "very unpleasant," said Nathan, an Army veteran who has served in Iraq and Bosnia and describes himself as a "reformed neo-con."

"I feel like we know a little bit better now how to avoid the situation," he said, adding that he hopes TSA will use the incident as a teaching tool for its agents when dealing with passengers in wheelchairs.