The father of 9-year-old boy who hopped on a flight from Minneapolis to Las Vegas last week answered questions from reporters Wednesday and made a desperate plea for help.
"I'm a parent, I'm not perfect," the boy's dad said. "We assumed he was at a friend's house."
HOW IT HAPPENED
The boy's father said his son disappeared on Wednesday after he took out the trash. The family assumed he was staying at a friend's house since he was known to do that before; however, he admitted they did not try to find where he was until Thursday.
In the meantime, the boy had been at the airport twice before he cleared airport security checkpoint and boarded a Delta flight on Thursday despite having no boarding pass or identification. Officials said the boy slipped by security by jumping in line with another family.
"How would you let a 9-year-old child go through a security check without questioning him?" the father asked. "He went through screening. He boarded a plane. How is that possible?"
STOLEN DELIVERY TRUCK
The boy was first seen at Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport on Wednesday, and a day earlier, a delivery truck was taken from the parking lot of United Noodles Wholesale near downtown Minneapolis by a young boy who was caught on camera.
The truck had the keys inside, and video shows the boy hopping in and quickly figuring out how to drive it.
The dangerous joyride spanned nine miles south and included a crash with a police squad car at the corner of 56th Street and Xerxes Avenue, near the border of Minneapolis and Edina. Minneapolis police stopped him seven blocks east at West 56th Street and Queen Avenue after the boy hit several poles and cars.
"When he damaged those cars, I don't know what was going through my son's head," the father said. I just hoped and prayed that nobody got hurt."
Children under 10 can't be charged, so the boy was returned to his parents.
"I asked the officer, please sir can you go upstairs with me and watch me whoop his butt?" the father said, adding that "I didn't punish him. I didn't hit him."
When asked if the boy realized how serious his joyride was, and that people could have been killed, the father responded frankly that he did not.
"He told the police officer he thought he was playing Grand Theft Auto," the father said, explaining that his son does not own the game that was released a few weeks ago but may have played it with friends.
'SOMEBODY PLEASE HELP ME'
"He wasn't listening, he did what he wanted to do," the boy's father said. "It was too much. We asked for help. I'm hoping it's not too late for someone to please help me."
He said the 9-year-old had been suspended from school for a week following a fight in late September -- a suspension that was extended.
"I go up to the school, sit down with the principal, we talk," the father recalled. "We had put in a plan, services that he needed."
The father and family spokesperson V.J. Smith said they reached out to get additional help for the boy, but they were told "he hadn't done enough wrong yet."
"I'm tired of people saying, 'He's a minor, there's nothing we can do.' There is something somebody can do," the father said. "Somebody please help me. Please!"
Smith said that Hennepin County Social Services has offered help to the family following this latest incident.
THERAPIST: IT'S NOT TOO LATE
After the press conference, FOX 9 News spoke with child therapist Kathleen Matthews about what a father at his wit's end could do with an admittedly unruly child -- and she said she believes there is still hope, especially since age 9 is often a turning point for little ones.
"They can receive help and end up going down a normal developmental path, or they end up getting in the juvenile justice system," she said.
Matthews also expressed disappointment after hearing father's repeated statements that his requests for help with his son had been denied.
"It's a disservice if a family is looking for help and people are saying, 'We really can't help you,'" she said.
The Washburn Clinic, where Matthews works, specializes in helping troubled kids, and she said the boy would need a professional assessment before the parents can get their best recommendation on how to move forward -- but she hopes members of the community will refrain from an easy inclination in the meantime.
"Don't blame the parents," she urged. "Look at a way of solving the problem and supporting this family, and I think it takes a village."
According to Matthews, the key to harnessing the boy's potential lies in learning what his strengths are and using them to address his struggles. She believes his parents will be the experts in that regard because if there was an easy answer to steering the boy in a positive direction, they would have found it by now. Although going forward will involve a process of trial and error, she said it's important to remember that time has not run out and that there's still hope.
BACK IN MINN. BY FRIDAY
The boy is expected to return to Minneapolis by Friday. The family believes he will be returned to their care. At that time, Smith and the boy's father plan to sit down with him and learn why he flew to Las Vegas and what they can do to get him on track.
"If we can just channel all that energy, he might be our next president," Smith said.
Given that an active investigation is ongoing with Hennepin County Child Protection, it is likely that the family will get some sort of assistance; however, it is also possible that the boy may be placed in foster care.
FOX 13 / WTVT-TV
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