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Originally published May 28, 2008 at 12:00 AM | Page modified May 28, 2008 at 4:36 AM

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Runaway kid fools Sea-Tac security — again

The last time Semaj Booker tried to get to his grandfather's house in Dallas, he made it all the way to San Antonio. The 10-year-old tried again...

Seattle Times staff reporter

The last time Semaj Booker tried to get to his grandfather's house in Dallas, he made it all the way to San Antonio.

The 10-year-old tried again on Tuesday — but didn't even make it off the tarmac.

Semaj made it through the security checkpoint at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport but was stopped at the gate before he could board a plane bound for Sacramento, where he planned to hop a connecting flight to Dallas.

Instead, police drove him home to his mother.

In January 2007, Semaj, then 9, made national headlines and landed an appearance on the Dr. Phil show after running away from his Lakewood, Pierce County, home and finagling his way onto a flight from Seattle to Phoenix, and from there to San Antonio. At Sea-Tac, he scored himself a boarding pass by claiming to be a man whose name he heard over the airport's public-address system.

He hated his Lakewood neighborhood and wanted to go back to Dallas, where he, his mother and three brothers once lived with their grandfather.

He was called resourceful, brilliant and cocky but, in an interview with The Seattle Times, Semaj promised he'd never do it again.

He broke that promise — or tried to — early Tuesday.

Semaj's mother, who has since moved her family to Tacoma, reported Semaj missing to Tacoma police at 3 a.m. Tuesday.

Then, at 4:53 a.m., Semaj was captured on video as he went through security at Sea-Tac airport, said Dwayne Baird, a spokesman for the Transportation Security Administration's Northwest region.

Semaj took off his shoes, emptied his pockets and walked through the metal detector — even though he should have been turned away because he didn't have a boarding pass, Baird said.

"He told them he was 14," Baird said. "We're looking at our procedures to see how this kid was able to do this ... . We want to make sure this doesn't happen again."

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Baird declined to speculate about what could happen to the TSA employees who failed to stop Semaj.

After making it through security, Semaj continued on to the gate for Southwest Airlines Flight 207. As passengers were boarding the 6:35 a.m. flight to Sacramento, Semaj tried to follow, telling a Southwest employee that he was traveling with a man who was in line ahead of him, said Perry Cooper, a spokesman for the airport and the Port of Seattle Police Department.

"The young man said, 'I'm with that guy in front of me,' " Cooper said. "Basically, he was trying to tailgate with someone in front of him." The man told the employee that he didn't know the boy and wasn't traveling with him, Cooper said.

Semaj was taken into protective custody until officers determined he had been reported missing in Tacoma, Cooper said. Officers took him home to his mother.

"He was rather uncommunicative to our officers — really the only thing he said was that he was trying to get to Dallas," Cooper said.

The Rev. Tony McMath of Tacoma's St. John Baptist Church said Semaj's mother, Sakinah Booker, recently moved and doesn't have a phone. McMath, the family's pastor, said he planned to visit Semaj sometime this week. He wouldn't say where the family lives.

"He was doing pretty good at one point, after he got back into school," McMath said. "I don't know what triggered this."

It will be up to King County prosecutors to decide whether to file charges, but as of Tuesday afternoon a case had not been referred to them, said spokesman Dan Donohoe.

A day before Semaj's airport adventure last year, he had stolen a neighbor's car, led police on a high-speed chase and crashed into a tree. A Pierce County judge convicted Semaj of car theft last July but said he wouldn't have to go to juvenile detention if he stayed out of trouble for a year. It's unclear whether that decision will be vacated in light of Semaj's latest runaway attempt.

Information from The Seattle Times archives is included in this report.

Sara Jean Green: 206-515-5654 or sgreen@seattletimes.com

Copyright © 2008 The Seattle Times Company

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