America's Youngest Con Man Allegedly Likes to Sneak Into Airplanes and Water Parks

A blog about murder, theft, and other wickedness.
Oct. 9 2013 4:25 PM

America's Youngest Con Man Allegedly Likes to Sneak Into Airplanes and Water Parks

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In this file photo, two men enjoy a water slide.

Photo by David Rogers/Getty Images

You may have already read about the 9-year-old Minnesota boy who last week pulled a reverse Home Alone by somehow making his way into an airport and onto a flight bound for Las Vegas, by himself, without a ticket. (Flight attendants eventually realized they had a stowaway.) Now, the Minneapolis Star Tribune is reporting that the boy also likes to steal bags from luggage carousels and dine-and-dash at airport restaurants; that he recently stole a delivery truck from a noodle wholesaler and crashed it into a police car after a brief chase; and that he is fond of taking public transit by himself to a nearby water park, where he “waits until a large family is entering and joins them.” If I remember correctly, this is exactly how Bernie Madoff got started.

This is a wonderful story in many ways. (Who among us wouldn’t sneak into a water park if given the chance? Water parks are expensive!) But while it’s clear that this boy is precocious—he’s observant enough to notice these various holes in security, brazen enough to actively exploit them, and smart enough to fly Delta instead of some cruddier airline that doesn’t have seat-back televisions—it’s also clear that there’s something wrong here. Most 9-year-olds do not sneak onto airplanes and steal delivery trucks, and this pint-size crime wave may well be a cry for help or a sign of some kind of trouble at home. (Of course, because he is 9, he is too young to be charged with any crime.)

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Indeed, the Star Tribune reports that county officials have “conducted four child-protection assessments on the boy’s family” since December 2012. According to an email from a county official, the boy “has alleged that his mother held a knife to his throat, as well as that his mother was ‘stabbed and died.’ ” (The official also writes that county investigators have found it hard to tell when the boy is lying.) His parents have claimed, through a spokesperson, that they are good parents, that they’ve been trying to get help, and that their son “has got issues” and is “one of those mischievous kids.” That’s certainly possible. But whatever is going on, it’s clear this child needs someone to intervene in his life in a major way. I hope that happens soon.

Justin Peters is a writer for Slate. He is working on a book about Aaron Swartz, copyright, and the rise of “free culture.” Email him at justintrevett@fastmail.fm.