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9 year old sneaks passed airport security

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LAKEWOOD, Wash. (Jan. 18) - A determined 9-year-old runaway who managed to board flights from Seattle to Texas in efforts to rejoin his grandfather in Dallas was seeking a father figure, his mother said.

Sakinah Booker said her son dislikes his new neighborhood, is afraid of a sex offender who lives nearby and has been impatient with her efforts to move back to Dallas.

She said her son, Semaj Booker, misses having a father.

"He needs a male role model and he's really seeking it," she said Thursday morning in a report aired on CNN.

For the time being, she said, she plans to have him "go stay with my sister in Illinois" while she works on moving the family from this Tacoma suburb back to Texas.

It was not clear when the family moved to Washington or where the boy's father is.

Semaj is charged in a car theft and police chase that preceded his effort to get to Dallas. It was the latest in a series of car thefts he is accused of committing. He remained in juvenile detention in San Antonio on Thursday.

Meanwhile, authorities scrambled to determine how Semaj, an 80-pound, 4-foot-9 fourth grader, managed to slip through airline and airport security.

According to Southwest Airlines, the boy approached the ticket counter at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport on Monday and was given a boarding pass after he said his mother was in the boarding area.

"The young man's information matched a paid, ticketless reservation for the flight. Based on the information he gave us, he was issued a boarding pass," the airline said. He was not listed as a child because he told the agent he was 12, Southwest said.

He made it through airport security, not needing picture identification because of his age, flew to Phoenix, then caught another plane to San Antonio, where airline employees stopped him from boarding a flight to Dallas because he couldn't explain why he didn't have a boarding pass, said David Hebert, spokesman for the San Antonio International Airport.

Southwest employees first thought he was lost, then called police when they realized he was lying, and he was taken to the police station when he persisted in giving false information about his age, name and where he had come from, officers said.

Police determined early Tuesday that he fit the description of a missing person report his mother had filed.

The boy was unhappy after his family moved to Lakewood, outside Tacoma. His odyssey began Sunday when he stole a car that was left running outside a neighbor's house, only to be spotted by police, authorities said.

Police pursued Semaj at speeds up to 90 mph until he took an exit and the engine blew, after which the car went over a curb and coasted into a tree. He refused to come out of the car, so officers broke a window to unlock a door and immediately recognized him as a frequent runaway and car thief, police Lt. David B. Guttu said.

He was released to his mother, but he ran away again, authorities said.

The Pierce County, Wash., prosecutor filed three charges against Booker on Wednesday in juvenile court, all related to the vehicle theft. The charges were sent to San Antonio.

But Deputy Prosecutor Fred C. Wist did not issue an arrest warrant, telling the Seattle Post-Intelligencer he wanted more information about the mother's decision to move back to Texas.

"It may very well be that he is where he wants to be," Wist said, "and with a follow-through on the move, that might be the best thing to happen right now."

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