Airport escape: Teen on the lam raises questions about alerts

Airport escape: Teen on the lam raises questions about alerts

The 17-year-old boy who escaped his private security guards at the Charlottesville Albemarle Airport on November 30 was “scared,” “cold,” and “hungry” by the time he reached several homes six miles from CHO, according to one of those residents.

An Earlysville woman who spoke with him in Spanish, and who talked to C-VILLE on the condition her name not be used, said he told her he’d been in a group home that he didn’t like and where he’d gotten in trouble, and he wanted to go to his cousin, who lived in the Midwest.

The teen was being transported from Texas to a detention center in Shenandoah, and knocked on at least three residents’ doors asking for help in broken English, says Earlysville resident Gary Grant. Grant appeared before the Albemarle Board of Supervisors December 5 and 12 to ask officials “why we weren’t notified about it in real time as this emergency was occurring.”

Among the details Grant is trying to confirm are allegations that local law enforcement was asked not to alert the community, that CHO didn’t know the juvenile was coming through, that the teen did not have any handcuffs or tracking devices, that he was spotted from the CHO tower fleeing around airport security fencing, and that the guards with him “were not in good enough physical shape to pursue him and recapture him,” Grant told the board.

According to Albemarle spokesperson Madeline Curott, Albemarle police were helping the Texas Department of Corrections and the Charlottesville Albemarle Airport Police. “There was a limited area alert sent to citizens to help the ACPD locate the juvenile,” she said in an email.

As for Grant’s other allegations, she cites Virginia Code and says Albemarle police “will not be able to provide confirmation or denial.”

Earlysville resident Gary Grant wants to know why people weren’t told that a juvenile en route to a detention center escaped from the airport. Courtesy Gary Grant

On December 13, Grant spoke with Captain Darrell Byers, who told him that a reverse 911 alert was sent to residents on Bleak House Road and Montei Drive. Grant, who lives on Bleak House, said he didn’t get an alert, nor did several of his neighbors.

And in a December 17 email to Grant, Amanda Farley in the county attorney’s office writes that the limited area alert was prepared, but never sent.

Byers says a community-wide alert was not issued because police checked with the county attorney and determined there was no danger to the community—and to protect the identity of the boy.

As for whether the teen was even under arrest or what his immigration status was, Byers says, “I can’t get into those details.”

Grad student Maggie Thornton arrived at the airport that day around 3pm, and says she saw on Twitter that a person was spotted dashing across the runway. Someone who works at the airport restaurant told her that when a juvenile got off the plane, “he took off.”

Passengers in the airport were told there was a “federal ground stop,” but were given no details. “I thought it was a problem they didn’t tell us what was happening,” she says. And she worried about what happened to the child.

The Earlysville resident echoed that concern, saying the teen, who was dressed in shorts and a T-shirt, offered to work in exchange for food and shelter. “He was not dangerous,” she says. “I think the police were right in not alerting people.”

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