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TSA screener spilled grandfather's ashes, then laughed about it, Indiana man says

By Jeff Stein, CNN
updated 7:37 AM EDT, Thu June 28, 2012
 An Indiana man wants an apology from a TSA agent who, the man said, spilled his grandfather's ashes.
An Indiana man wants an apology from a TSA agent who, the man said, spilled his grandfather's ashes.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • John Gross was carrying his grandfather's ashes through airport security
  • He says a TSA screener accidentally spilled the ashes, then laughed off the incident
  • Gross says he's received a "heartfelt" apology from a TSA administrator
  • But he wants to hear directly from the screener, and he wants security tapes released

(CNN) -- An Indiana man is demanding a direct apology from a Transportation Security Administration agent in Florida who, the man says, spilled his grandfather's ashes during an airport bag check and then laughed off the incident.

And John Gross is also demanding that the TSA release any security surveillance tapes of the incident, tapes that the federal agency said simply don't exist.

Gross, 30, was returning home from visiting family in Orlando, Florida, on June 19, carrying with him a portion of his grandfather's ashes that had been passed along by an uncle -- a "real sentimental kind of guy," said Gross -- when he approached TSA screeners. A female agent wearing blue latex gloves inspected the contents of his bag, says Gross, including the jar clearly labeled "Human Remains."

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"I said, 'Please be careful, these are my grandpa's ashes,'" Gross told CNN Wednesday. But, he said, the agent proceeded to stick her finger in the jar then accidentally spilled its contents on the airport floor.

She then laughed, according to Gross, not an uproarious cackle, but a chuckle that he found offensive nonetheless.

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"She thought it was funny," he said. "I wanted to smack her."

While not directly contradicting Gross, the TSA said it believes his sequence of events is incorrect.

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"Our initial review concluded that the circumstances as described in some reports are inconsistent with what we believe transpired," an initial statement from the TSA said.

That pronouncement prompted Gross, who said he would otherwise be content to drop his contention, to once again assail the agency.

"I don't want this to continue," he said Wednesday in an interview with CNN, but "now I'm really heated because the TSA is coming back and saying there's inconsistencies in the reports."

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The TSA statement added that "under no circumstances should a container holding remains be opened."

"TSA recognizes the importance of screening human remains with utmost respect and dignity while remaining vigilant of our security mission to protect the traveling public," its statement said.

TSA spokesman David Castelveter said Tuesday that there is no surveillance video relevant to the episode, and the agency followed that on Wednesday by adding that the security cameras in question are being upgraded.

Gross, however, said he believes the agency is concealing the truth.

"If they don't have any tapes, it obviously shows they are hiding something," he told CNN.

The situation calmed later Wednesday, after Gross said he received what he viewed as a "sincere" and "heartfelt" apology from a TSA administrator, but he was still bothered by the federal agency's public declaration that his story had "inconsistencies" with what the TSA said happened. And he still wanted "the apology from the person who did it ..."

As for the spilled ashes of his grandfather, Gross said he did the best he could to recover as much as possible.

"I couldn't get a broom and dust pan, but I picked up the bigger pieces on the ground and I put them in the jar," Gross said. "But not everything. I tried getting what I could but there was a long line behind me."

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