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No longer free to move about the country

A 9-year-old boy ran away from home and sneaked onto two different flights before he was caught by police after missing his connection for a third flight, officials said Wednesday.
/ Source: The Associated Press

A 9-year-old boy who didn't like his suburban Tacoma home grabbed a car, got caught, was returned home to his mother, then ran away again and flew to San Antonio with a plane change in Phoenix before he was arrested, authorities said.

Investigators and Southwest Airlines officials were trying to determine how Semaj Booker, who was trying to get to his grandfather in Texas, made his way through security and onto the airplane.

In a statement Wednesday, Southwest Airlines said a young man approached the ticket counter at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport requesting a boarding pass and saying his mother was already in the boarding area.

"The young man's information matched a paid, ticketless reservation for the flight. Based on the information he gave us, he was issued a boarding pass," the airline said, adding that he was not listed as an "unaccompanied minor" because he told the ticket agent he was 12 years old.

He made it through airport security in Seattle and Phoenix, and hopped two separate flights before gate agents in San Antonio stopped him short of his Dallas destination, police said.

Airline employees stopped Semaj from boarding another flight from San Antonio to Dallas when he couldn't explain why he didn't have the proper paperwork or a boarding pass, said David Hebert, spokesman for the San Antonio International Airport.

Airline staff turned the boy over to airport police after speaking with him at length and "not getting anywhere," Hebert said.

"Our officers brought him to the office and went through the same process," he said, adding that it took until early the next day before they could get the boy to share his real name and his situation.

"I think more than anything they were a little bit frustrated by his answers," he said. "From their standpoint, this was just a young man who seemed to be confused at first. Then he seemed to be flat-out lying."

The 80-pound, 4-foot-9 fourth-grader, held in juvenile detention Tuesday in San Antonio, was "incredibly motivated to get to Texas," Lakewood police Lt. David Guttu told The News Tribune of Tacoma. "He doesn't want to live in Washington state."

Charges filed
The Pierce County, Wash., prosecutor filed three charges against Booker on Wednesday in juvenile court, all related to the Sunday vehicle theft. The charges were sent to San Antonio, but Guttu wasn't sure what the next step would be.

"We really don't extradite juveniles. So that's going to be interesting. We'll see what happens," he said. "The police department's main job is to coordinate the warrant and coordinate his return as a missing juvenile."

The boy's mother, Sakinah Booker, told The News Tribune he dislikes the neighborhood where the family lives and is afraid of a sex offender who lives nearby.

"He does not like it here at all," she said.

By the time he got to Phoenix ...
She said she was told the boy wound up in San Antonio rather than Dallas, his intended destination, because he boarded the wrong plane in Phoenix. She also said she had hoped to move her four sons back to Dallas soon, but Semaj grew tired of waiting.

Guttu told the AP that Child Protective Services had visited the Booker family sometime in the past few months at the request of the mother and another person, but the boy was not removed from the home.

Guttu said the boy's odyssey began Sunday when he took an Acura that was left running outside a neighbor's house, only to be spotted by police near the interchange of Interstate 5 and State Route 512.

Police pursued young Booker on Highway 512 at 80-90 mph until he took an exit and the engine blew, after which the car went over a curb and coasted into a tree.

He refused to come out of the car, so officers broke a window to unlock a door and immediately recognized him as a frequent runaway, Guttu said.

PlayStation driver's ed
Last month he also crashed a stolen car before being caught by police in Tacoma, and more recently he was caught in Seattle in a stolen car that had run out of gas, his mother said.

She believes he learned to drive from playing video games on a PlayStation.

Because of those earlier episodes, she said, she had told police not to bring him home if he got into more trouble, but after the latest episode, officials at Remann Hall, Pierce County's juvenile detention center, refused to admit him, partly because of his young age.

"Putting a 9-year-old in our facility with our population is not a good thing," said Shelly Maluo, the county's juvenile court administrator.

As a result, he was taken home again, but by 6 a.m. Monday he again had been reported missing. The next day, Guttu said, police got a call from a juvenile lockup in San Antonio saying, "we've got your runaway."