Friday, January 19, 2007
9-year-old runaway snuck on two flights
You have to be a pretty sharp (albeit troubled) kid to know how to a) steal cars and b) drive them. Nine-year-old Semaj Booker has done both. Three times, according to his mother. She says he learned how to drive by playing video games. If only the story ended there.

On Sunday, Semaj stole a car from his neighborhood near Tacoma, Washington. (In each instance, the cars had been running while their owners were temporarily out of sight.) The fourth-grader wound up leading police on a high-speed chase. The cops wanted to put Semaj into juvenile detention, but were told he's too young. So they took the boy home.

The next morning, Semaj snuck out of his house and took a bus to the Seattle airport. He went to the Southwest ticket counter and gave a fake name. According to this mother, he told the ticket agent his last name is "Williams." The agent looked in her computer and said, "Frank Williams?" Semaj answered, "Yep," and off he went with the boarding pass with the name "Frank Williams."

He got through security with no issues, because children don't need photo id. Semaj hopped on a plane that stopped briefly in Phoenix before heading on to San Antonio. He tried to get on a third flight for Dallas where the boy still has family, but Southwest figured out something wasn't right and called airport police. (The airline told us it's investigating the incident.)

Semaj is now in a shelter in San Antonio until authorities figure out what to do with him. He's been charged with car theft and eluding police, but prosecutors may drop the case because he's so young.

Obviously, this kid is pretty smart. How else could he pull off something like this? Let's just hope he gets some help and is able to put his mind to good use someday.

As for the real Frank Williams ... there's no word on what happened to when he checked in for his flight. So Mr. Williams, if you or anyone who knows you is reading this, we hope you'll let us know what happened when you went to pick up your ticket.
Posted By Dan Simon, CNN Correspondent: 11:03 AM ET
  41 Comments
I would bet that this kid has done this before. It kind of makes you wonder how or who he learned how to do this from. I believe his mother said he needed a male influence in his life. I'm thinking that he has gotten some already, it was just the wrong influence. Even though he is young, he still needs to pay for his crimes, like doing something for the community or for those he has affected, like Mr. Williams.
Posted By Anonymous Jolene, St. Joseph, MI : 12:57 PM ET
Wow, it seems so unbelievable that a 9 year old could do that. He is obviously a smart kid. But I do hope he gets some help, some serious help, because if he can do that at 9 years old imagine what he could do 10 years from now.
Posted By Anonymous Kaitlin, Bethlehem, PA : 12:57 PM ET
Dear Dan,

Since little Semaj Booker has such a track record for doing things like this maybe they should investigate his mother, but they should take Semaj to Homeland Security, where I think they could benefit from his expertise. I heard they could use some help over there.

Jo Ann
Posted By Anonymous Jo Ann Matese, North Royalton, Ohio : 12:58 PM ET
AMAZING AMAZING AMAZING, MY 8 YEAR OLD ASKED HOW DID HE DO IT .....I HAD TO SAY I COULDNT HAVE DONE SO IF I TRIED , IM 46????
Posted By Anonymous MIKE D. DALLAS TEXAS : 1:09 PM ET
Everyone is worrying about how he got on the planes! How did he get past the TSA checkpoint????? That was the first line of defense.
Posted By Anonymous Leslie, Queen Creek, AZ : 1:10 PM ET
I think we've learned something about our airport security. Anyone who can't produce a first name (without a hint from the ticket agent) and an ID should be refused a ticket. ALL airline/airport personnel should be conscious of security, not just the TSA staff. We all need to keep our antennas up rather than mindlessly processing people through lines. And perhaps children under 18 should not be allowed to check-in by themselves, there should be some adult guardian or 'sponsor'. Regarding the child, I hope someone helps him get on the right track, b/c he seems like he could be quite a risk to society. I hope they investigate his home situation and if there was any abuse there that caused him to run like he did.
Posted By Anonymous Gracie Davidson, Raleigh, NC : 1:17 PM ET
Crazy story. You'd think with the added security at airports, situations like this wouldn't occur. One time, as an adult, I was traveling on the same plane with my parents. My father and I have the same initials, so when I checked in, I inadvertently got my father's ticket. When he went to check in, it caused quite a stir because he was "already checked in." Luckily, I was waiting for them before heading to the plane and we resolved it. These days, that could result in a trip to Gitmo.
Posted By Anonymous Brett, Portland OR : 1:28 PM ET
Woww, that is amazing... hopefully, one day he'll put the smarts to good use. Some action should be taken against him, regardless of age so that his behavioe can be "nipped in the bud" as the old saying goes.
Posted By Anonymous D. Clark, Biloxi, MS : 1:34 PM ET
Dan you gave me a good laugh with your inquiry to Mr. Williams!

I love you guys at cnn
Posted By Anonymous Sue, New Brunswick NJ : 1:48 PM ET
Hi Dan!

Well, it is obvious that Sea-Tac and Southwest Airlines really messed up in security. It is really comforting to know a 9-year-old can crack airport security so easily.

Isn't there some kind of rule with all airlines that a child cannot fly alone without some kind of flight attendent supervision especially when it comes to connecting flights? If not, WHY NOT! Yeah, Southwest, something wasn't right.

It amazes me that we have placed so much "treasury" in the security of airports and yet Semaj was able to "use and abuse it". Next time it may not be a 9-year-old sweeping through security and accepting an identity from a ticket counter.

I can imagine that many individuals from Sea-Tac to Southwest Airlines are in the "doghouse" around this incident.

In a way, Semaj did us a favor. He was smart enough to find a hole in the security procedures. Now are the TSAs (Transportation Security Administration) smart enough to plug the hole?

About Frank Williams....maybe when he arrived to get the ticket, Southwest Airline was enlightened, "something is wrong with this scenario" and called San Antonio.
Posted By Anonymous Liz C, Milwaukee, WI : 1:53 PM ET
I think this kid should be recruited by the CIA right now. He obviously has skills that lend themselves to being a spy. Given the right training and attention, he could be a valuable asset to our country, while also directing his misguided crimes towards a more positive purpose.
Posted By Anonymous Nora, Alexandria, VA : 1:54 PM ET
If this kid was really smart, he would be spending his time getting an education!
Posted By Anonymous Joy--Phoenix, AZ : 1:56 PM ET
I'm about to book a flight on Southwest to San Antonio.

Good to know I don't need to give them my real name!

Two thoughts:

1) If this is the state of airport security right now, WHY DO I HAVE TO STAND IN LINE FOR HOURS TO GET THROUGH SECURITY!?!? The TSA is a complete joke. I have no faith in them whatsoever to protect me or any other law-abiding American citizen.

2) Given the history of criminal activity, both the child and his mother should go to jail. End of story.
Posted By Anonymous Ben - Denton, TX : 2:01 PM ET
I worry what this kid is gonna be like at 16 yrs old, When he doesn't get his own way. The Mother Needs to step up and put a stop to this. Male influnce is great but what about a parent's influnce. This my opinion is what he needs more then anything.
Posted By Anonymous Dawn Medford Oregon : 2:04 PM ET
Another case to prove kids are playing too much video games. Just think what he will do in 10 years.
Posted By Anonymous Barb Kozlowski, Phoenix AZ : 2:08 PM ET
That kid is smart, but who's car did he steal, his mom's or a stranger's? I also think that the child's mother should have been a bit more upset regarding her son's behaivor instead of boasting about what he did.
Posted By Anonymous Kelli, San Francisco, CA : 2:14 PM ET
Troubled he may be, but I agree with Joy and Jo Ann above. Sounds like this is another "Catch me if You Can" in the making. He needs help, and so does his mother. She says they have a "plan", which is to send Semaj to live with his Aunt in Illinois. That is no plan...Sounds like staying the course to me:~)
Posted By Anonymous Kuukua, Snellville GA : 2:19 PM ET
Aren't kids under a certain age(12?)traveling on airplanes required to have an escort? Didn't the Flight Attendants or those boarding employees think it strange that a kid that young was traveling alone without escort documentation? I find that more amazing than his getting through other aspects of the airport security (sad commentary on airport security, I fear).
Posted By Anonymous Sarah, Gig Harbor, WA : 2:21 PM ET
He got through security with no issues? Unless this nine year old looks old for his age, a child traveling alone (I assume he didn't attach himself to someone else named Williams)doesn't 'fly' when it comes to security. Don't children need to be accompanied by an airline employee until they get to the gate? This kid is smart alright, and the lessons he's learning include how easy it is to fool people who aren't paying attention. He could be dangerous in less than ten years.
Posted By Anonymous Maryann M Champaign IL : 2:25 PM ET
Scary, unaccompanied minor on Southwest and NOT one employee noticed?
Posted By Anonymous Barbara- San Antonio, TX : 2:25 PM ET
Looks like this kid parental guidance are his video games.
Posted By Anonymous Sherry, Dallas, TX : 2:53 PM ET
Kid is smart my back end. He needs to be locked up just like any other criminal to say the least. What is wrong with his parents. A 9 year old. He needs his behind spanked big time.
Posted By Anonymous Dorothy, Austin TX : 2:56 PM ET
I think that he is a very bright kid, and no one knows the situation or circumstances to why he did what he did but, as stated before his actions should be geared toward more positive things. I wouldn't down play his brilliantness but I would steer him in another direction.
Posted By Anonymous Nicole, Columbus, OH : 2:57 PM ET
Im not surprised ! During Winter break my daughter and her boyfriend snuck from caoch seats into 2 first class seats on a Contitnental Airlines flight and were asked by the stewardess what they would like from the menu !
Posted By Anonymous VR, Central NJ : 3:00 PM ET
This story is both sad and disgusting on so many different levels. How lax are the employees at the check in counter to allow a 9 year old to check in BY HIMSELF? What is going on? I thought part of the reason for all of the airline rate hikes was to offset the security costs...what security? The airline industry is a joke. And why hasn't this child been taken away from his mother? Obviously she has niether the time nor the will to actually be a parent to this child. I think one instance, ok, the kid is acting out, but three times? You've got to be kidding! Juveniles get away with murder in this society (sometimes literally). Why? We must realize that people are maturing at a much younger age and need to be held accountable for their actions at a much younger age as well. I feel sorry for the society that has to survive with Semaj in it. And I feel sorry for all of the Mr. Williams' in this world that will eventually have to pay the price for Semaj's mother's carelessness.
Posted By Anonymous Matt Schlumpberger, Santa Barbara, CA : 3:07 PM ET
Sounds like the making of another Frank William Abagnale, Jr. He is the person that a movie was made, called Catch Me If You Can with Hanks and DiCaprio. A genuis who is bored. Even though he's nine, he should be tested for his IQ level!
Posted By Anonymous Nicki, Calgary, Alberta : 3:12 PM ET
Wow!! That kid is gonna be something when he grows up!!! Lets hope its not a bad guy!!!!!!
Posted By Anonymous Diane Majuro, MH : 3:17 PM ET
I watched last night's story on 9 year old Semaj Booker. I was very distrubed that a 9 year old could accomplish so much--driving a car at high speed, alluding the police--getting on two different airplanes. This young man is screaming for help. He's trying to get away from something he doesn't like. The mom admits that he hasn't adjusted to his new surroundings but what exactly are these new surroundings. The mom says he's bright and needs a role model.

Are there any volunteers? Positive intervention at this point could very well change the course of his life. Let's not assume that all of his activities will lead to a life of crime. Remember Huckleberry Finn? Did we crminialize his escapades? Note, I'm not dismissing his actions. I'm a grandmother of 5 children (3 boys)and I would be terrified if any one of them went missing and did any of the things that this child did.

Once again, I ask who is going to step up a be a "positive male role model"! Sign up for Big Brothers Big Sisters.
Posted By Anonymous Linda, Columbia, South Carolina : 3:18 PM ET
Thankfully no harm was brought to him but as a traveler that was in NY on 09/11, security at the airport is very important to me. It concerns me that so little was done to ensure safety to all passengers and that he was able to get by so many people. Just as the guy from Africa was able to stow away in the tire of the airplane. What are we doing???
Posted By Anonymous Ally, Atlanta, GA : 3:19 PM ET
Wow, smart kid - stupid airline - as a person who travels often this is not a good thing. Makes you stop and wonder what or who else could do the same thing undetected. Who's to say children wouldn't be used as attack our security - lets face it, it's a sick world. Makes you stop and think. As for the little boy - he is living proof of determination in action. I love his spirit - hope he's not grounded for the rest of his life.
Posted By Anonymous Cheryl Raleigh, NC : 3:30 PM ET
As a single mother of a spirited child myself, I feel for his mother and can imagine the flak she's getting from people who think it's all her fault--their ignorance is as innocent as the child's. I'm sure I was that narrow-minded before also.

All children should experience the consequences of their actions--good or bad--but, unfortunately that would only happen in a perfect world. I just hope that all of these well-meaning people with advice for her don't convince her that she just has to get "tougher" with him. When you're desperate to raise your child right it's easy to take advice that doesn't feel right. If his mother starts getting "tough" and "giving him the 'discipline' that he 'needs'" she will only become one more person that's against him in his eyes.(he doesn't see himself as 'bad' at all) He might see her point when he grows up, but he'll never forget the betrayal he felt as a child.

Spoiling can be just as damaging as overpunishment,(it's pathetic how handicapped a child is when he reaches adulthood when the parents spoil the kid to make THEMSELVES feel good) but if he knows that the people around him LIKE him regardless of his actions, he will get through his childhood just fine and probably go on to do great things.

Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn were hilarious and adorable, but I wouldn't want to be their mother!
Posted By Anonymous chris manchester nh : 3:32 PM ET
Apparently he wants to see his grandfather. Why didn't someone buy him a ticket and let him go?
Posted By Anonymous carol, lancaster pa : 3:32 PM ET
Excellent work TSA!
Posted By Anonymous Shruti Bala, Glendale, AZ : 3:42 PM ET
Dan,

I think this kid needs to have his IQ tested. I bet he has a very high IQ and has not been challenged enough in school. He should probably be in a gifted class, plus participate in some worthwhile youth development activity like the Boys and Girls Club. I hope someone encourages his mom to look into this. She impressed me as a good mom who could use some help and encouragement on where to get help for her boys. And don't we all need help now and again raising our kids.
Posted By Anonymous Charlotte D, Stockton CA : 3:44 PM ET
I believe the mother of this boy should be charged for his crimes. CPS should have taken custody of that child a long time ago. I know people don't believe in spankings anymore but that boy deserves a good one. If he is already a liar and a car thief, what will he grow up to be? Are we looking at the next boy who will stand in our schools with a shotgun? I pity them and am very glad that kid lives a long way from me.
Posted By Anonymous JE, Terrell, Texas : 3:51 PM ET
As a mother I feel for this kid, he is looking for attention and is getting it the wrong way. His parents should pay more attention to him because he is in need of love and care.
Posted By Anonymous Ann Marie Astoria New York : 3:53 PM ET
I want to adopt this little boy. He is obviously a genius and unhappy with his home life. Very bright children get into trouble when they are bored. The school system and parents need to recognize a "gifted" child as well as provide challenging and stimulating material. He's welcome at my house anytime.
Posted By Anonymous Jeannie Niles, San Diego, California : 3:59 PM ET
I'm sure what I am about to say will offend many but to me this is proof that single parenthood does not work. I understand if there is a death of spouse or an abusive spouse but any other situation is no valid reason to deny a child two parents. Did his mother stop to think his actions could have resulted in the death of innocent bystanders? His highspeed chase put both officers and the public in danger. Maybe a trip to the morgue is in order, so this little boy can see the tragic consequences of other people's irresponsible actions. Maybe he would be better off living with his grandfather because obviously his mother has lost control over him. Her plan to relocate her son to another state to live with an aunt shows her lack of responsibility for this dire situation. She states he learned to drive from playing video games, well maybe she should take the video games away and make him read a book or do physical chores around the house. I'm pretty sure this little boy's babysitter is the television and he has no parental influence because I can say with confidence my children would fear for the consequences both my husband and I would inflict if they even thought of stealing a car muchless initiating a highspeed chase.
Posted By Anonymous Katherine, Woodland Hills, CA : 3:59 PM ET
Lock him up and throw away the key! Rehab?!? Help?!? Fageddabout it! He's just starting younger than most career criminals.
Posted By Anonymous Mark, Sacramento, CA : 4:18 PM ET
I don't think it's amazing, I think it's sad. Video games are not babysitters & yes it's hard being a single mom(I am) but it's all about choices. You are the parent, you are the teacher. They need to learn that actions have consequences.
At 6, my son, a bright child, was bored in class. He was making everybody laugh, he stood on his desk, singing,etc...I worked with the school(well, I had to get mad actually) so that he could have more things to learn & work on in class. Now, at almost 12, he is not allowed to play is Gameboy or PS2 during school days. No computer ether unless its for school. He has a few hours during the week-end. There is so much more to do than that.
You can be a single parent and raise good children. You have to take the time to educate, love,listen, communicate with them.
That young man,I hope,will get some help. He needs to also learn very fast the consequences of his actions. He's young, it's not too late. Imagine what he could do with his skills if shown the right path.

As for the airport security, is anyone really surprised?

Joanne R.
Laval Quebec
Posted By Anonymous Joanne R. Laval Quebec : 5:56 PM ET
obviously this kid is smart. We should not rush to harsh judgements. He can be taught to use his talent in a better way.
Posted By Anonymous Barnabus, New Orleans, LA : 6:07 PM ET
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