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85-year-old woman: I was strip searched at JFK

An elderly New York woman says she's planning to sue the Transportation Security Administration after what she said was a humiliating "strip search." NBC's Brian Williams reports.

An 85-year-old New York grandmother said Saturday she was injured and humiliated when she was strip searched at an airport after she asked to be patted down instead of going through a body scanner.

Lenore Zimmerman said she was whisked away to a private room and made to take off her pants and other clothes after she asked to forgo the screening because she worried it would interfere with her defibrillator. She missed her flight and had to take one two-and-a-half hours later, she said.

“I walk with a walker — I really look like a terrorist,” she told The New York Daily News. “I’m tiny. I weigh 110 pounds, 107 without clothes, and I was strip-searched.”

“I was outraged,” said Zimmerman, a retired receptionist.

As she tried to lift a lightweight walker off her lap, she said the metal bars hit her leg, causing blood to flow from her a gash, the newspaper reported.

“My sock was soaked with blood,” she said. “I was bleeding like a pig."

But the Transportation Security Administration said in a statement Saturday no strip search was conducted.

"While we regret that the passenger feels she had an unpleasant screening experience, TSA does not include strip searches as part of our security protocols and one was not conducted in this case," the statement read.

Zimmerman was dropped off by her son at Kennedy Airport for a 1 p.m. flight Tuesday to Fort Lauderdale, Fla., on JetBlue, she said. She arrived to the ticket counter around 12:20 p.m. and headed for security in a wheelchair, her small, metal walker in her lap.

She's been traveling to Florida for at least a decade and has never had a problem being patted down until now, she said. "I worry about my heart, so I don't want to go through those things," she said referring to the advanced image technology screening machines now in place at the airport.

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Private screening
As a result, she said she was taken into the private screening room by one agent and made to strip.

A review of closed-circuit television at the airport showed proper procedures were followed, Jonathan Allen, a TSA spokesman, said in a statement.

"Private screening was requested by the passenger, it was granted and lasted approximately 11 minutes," the statement read. "TSA screening procedures are conducted in a manner designed to treat all passengers with dignity, respect and courtesy and that occurred in this instance."

The private screening was not recorded.

Zimmerman, who spends half the year in Long Beach, N.Y., said she banged her shin during the process and it bled "like a pig," partly because she is on blood-thinning medication. She said an emergency medical technician patched her up, but she was told to see a doctor when she arrived in Florida to make sure the wound didn't get infected. There are no records indicating medical attention was called on her behalf.

"I don't know what triggered this. I don't know why they singled me out," she said.

Her son Bruce Zimmerman said he'd like to see someone fired, and screeners re-trained after his mother's ordeal.

"My mother is a little old woman. She's not disruptive or uncooperative," he said Saturday. "I don't understand how this happened."

He said she's had an increasingly difficult time traveling, especially since her husband died a few years ago. She has two grandchildren, and her older son, a doctor, died in 2007.

Meanwhile, Lenore Zimmerman said she was healing, planned to go to the grocery store on Saturday and take it easy. Weather was about 76 and sunny, and she's not headed back to an airport until April when she returns to New York.

"Thank goodness," she said. "It will give me some time to brace myself for the return flight."

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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