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'Not giving up on my son': Father of 9-year-old stowaway speaks out

A 9-year-old boy who flew from Minneapolis to Las Vegas without a ticket faces a court hearing this afternoon. NBC's John Yang reports that new details are emerging on how he did it, including that he made a test run at the airport earlier in the week.

The father of a 9-year-old boy who sneaked onto a flight to Las Vegas last week said his son had been a problem child for years – but said he couldn’t understand how the boy was able to board the flight.

“How can you let a 9-year-old sneak past security, get on the plane without anyone stopping him, questioning him or anything?” the boy’s father, who did not want to be identified, told Minneapolis radio station WCCO.

The father said the boy’s behavior became a problem when he was five years old, adding that his son was not on any medication.

Last Wednesday, on the night the boy disappeared, his father said he took out the trash and never returned.

“We didn’t know our son went up to the airport, got past security check, got on the plane – we didn’t know that,” the father said. “We’re not mind readers.”

This was not the first time the boy had left the house without letting his parents know, but he usually ended up spending the night at a friend’s house.

On this occasion, the boy rode the light rail and made his way past security at Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport after an initial screening last Thursday, then managed to make his way onto a Delta flight bound for Las Vegas, airport officials have said. According to a newspaper report, the boy's mother is an airport employee.

The boy “waited until the person who was at the gate was busy, and that’s when he got on the plane,” said airport spokesman Patrick Hogan. 

Flight attendants noticed the boy because he was sitting alone in a row by himself, a source close to the investigation told NBC News. There were also no unaccompanied minors noted on the passenger list, the source said.

Flight attendants approached the boy, and he told them different stories. At first, the child said his parents were sitting in the back of the plane. When the flight attendant checked and found that wasn't true, the boy said he had been traveling with his father, who was afraid of flying and had gotten off before departure, telling the boy to travel on to meet their friend in Las Vegas.

At that point, flight attendants radioed to Las Vegas to have authorities meet the flight.

According to a report in the Minneapolis Star-Tribune, the 9-year-old may have had prior run-ins with authorities.

The newspaper cites an email from Janine Moore, the director of Hennepin County Human Services and Public Health Department, which was obtained by the paper and marked “private data.” The email does not name the boy or his family.

In the email, Moore told county officials that staff have carried out assessments on the boy’s family four times since December, the Star-Tribune reported.

“The reports have been inconsistent and there have been no injuries to the child; however, there is a pattern of behavior,” Moore wrote in the email, according to the paper.

“Typically, staff can tell if a child is lying, but with this child, they are unsure what is going on. This is a two-parent home, and there is at least one other child.”

The public affairs director for the county’s Child Protection Services Department told NBC News on Monday that authorities could not comment on whether or not the department had looked into previous incidents with the youth or his family due to state law.

According to the email from Moore, the boy stole a car just weeks before his solo flight to Vegas, leading to his arrest on “Highway 35,” the Star-Tribune said. The email also reportedly said the boy had alleged that his mother had been “stabbed and died,” and that the boy sometimes went to a waterpark and “waits until a large family is entering and joins them.”

The boy’s father told WCCO that over the years he had sought help from various agencies to address the child’s behavior.

He said a doctor told him the child needed to get outside more, and a police officer urged him to discipline his child better.

“One particular officer said I need to discipline my son more hard,” the father said. “And I asked him, ‘If I discipline my son harder, y’all will come try to lock me up.’”

Delta does not allow unaccompanied children to check in for flights without an adult.

“Delta continues to work with authorities and look into the circumstances involving an un-ticketed minor boarding an aircraft in Minneapolis-St. Paul,” Delta spokesperson Leslie Scott said. “Safety and security are always Delta’s highest priorities and we are reviewing our policies and procedures to make sure something like this does not happen again.”

Las Vegas Metropolitan Police and Child Protective Services took the child into custody when the plane touched down.

The boy's father told WCCO he wants to keep trying to help his son.

“I don’t know what to do,” he said. “I love my son. I’m not giving up on my son.”

NBC News’ Elisha Fieldstadt and Jay Blackman contributed to this report.