Updated April 26, 10:35 a.m. ET: A 4-year-old girl was patted down recently by Transportation Security Officers (TSO) at a Wichita, Kan., airport after she embraced her grandmother at the security checkpoint.
Michelle Brademeyer, the girl's mother, wrote about the incident on her Facebook page last week. The post has since been taken down.
The child's grandmother, Lori Croft, told The Associated Press that Brademeyer and her daughter, Isabella, initially passed through security at the Wichita airport without incident. The girl then ran over to briefly hug Croft, who was awaiting a pat-down after tripping the alarm, and that's when TSA agents insisted the girl undergo a physical pat-down.
Isabella had just learned about "stranger danger" at school, her grandmother said, adding that the girl was afraid and unsure about what was going on.
"The Transportation Security Officers who were present responded to this very simple action in the worst way imaginable," Brademeyer wrote in her Facebook post.
Brademeyer said that a TSO began yelling at her daughter, would not permit her to pass through the scanner again and said that a pat-down was necessary. Isabel, according to her mother, was wearing Mary Jane shoes, a short-sleeve shirt and leggings that did not have pockets.
"It was implied, several times, that my mother, in their brief two-second embrace, had passed a handgun to my daughter," Brademeyer said.
In a statement to msnbc.com, the TSA explained the decision to pat-down Isabel and disputed that officers suspected she had a gun.
"In this case the child had completed screening but had contact with another member of her family who had not completed the screening process," the statement read. "While it was explained to family members why additional security procedures were necessary in this instance, TSA officers did not suspect or suggest the child was carrying a firearm. TSA has reviewed the incident and determined that our officers followed proper current screening procedures in conducting a modified pat-down on the child."
Brademeyer said that the TSOs did not attempt to explain the situation to an "obviously terrified" Isabel.
In a phone interview with the AP from her home in Fountain Valley, Calif., Croft said Brademeyer tried to no avail to get TSA agents to use a wand on the frightened girl or allow her to walk through the metal detector again. She also said TSA agents wanted to screen her granddaughter alone in a separate room.
"They told her she had to come to them, alone, and spread her arms and legs," Brademeyer wrote. "She screamed, 'No! I don't want to!' then did what any frightened young child might, she ran the opposite direction."
Brademeyer alleges that a TSO then said the entire airport would be shut down and flights would be canceled if Isabel was not restrained. Isabel was reportedly referred to as a "high-security threat."
Isabel was brought into a side room, accompanied by Brademeyer, for a pat-down. One of the officers said that she had previously "seen a gun in a teddy bear," according to Brademeyer. "The TSO seemed utterly convinced my child was concealing a weapon, as if there was no question about it." When Isabel would not stop crying, the TSOs apparently called for backup. Eventually, Brademeyer says, they were asked to leave the airport.
After a manager intervened, Isabel was cleared through security and Brademeyer made it to the family's departing flight.
The experience, Brademeyer says, traumatized Isabel. "My daughter is very shaken up about this, and has been waking up with nightmares," she wrote.
Brademeyer said she wanted to share the experience so that "no other child will have to share in this experience."
"There is no reason for any child to go through this, and while I completely understand the necessity of tight airport security, I fail to see how harassing a small child will provide safety for anyone."
Last year, the TSA revised its screening rules for children 12 and under. Airport security workers are supposed to make repeated attempts to screen children using metal detectors or full-body scanners before resorting to a pat-down, according to the new rules.
U.S. Sen. Jon Tester, a Montana Democrat, pressed the TSA for more information Wednesday. Tester, a member of the Senate Homeland Security Committee, said he was concerned the TSA went too far, according to the AP.
"I am a staunch advocate for effective transportation security, but I'm also a strong advocate for common sense and the freedoms we enjoy as Americans," Tester wrote to TSA Administrator John Pistole. "Any report of abuse of the power entrusted to officers of the TSA is especially concerning — especially if it involves children."
Though the TSA has tried to improve its child-screening efforts, Brademeyer is not the only parent to recently report that her child endured uncomfortable or traumatic pat-downs.
Last week, the Huffington Post wrote about a 10-year-old diabetic boy who received a pat-down after his insulin pump triggered the alarm. Jacob Wisnik was wearing a new pump that was placed over his groin. According to his mother, Eva, he was not permitted to reposition or move the pump before the pat-down.
The TSA told msnbc.com last week that the agency "is reviewing the passenger's screening experience to determine whether procedures were appropriately applied. We regret the family's perception of the experience was not positive and always strive to screen passengers respectfully while ensuring the safety of all travelers."
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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