WASHINGTON (CNN) — The Transportation Security Administration is crediting two of its officers with rescuing a kidnapped woman and helping capture her two abductors as they passed through a security checkpoint at Miami International Airport.
The two behavior detection officers, trained to spot terrorists in passenger lines, noticed the 25-year-old woman trembling and trying to hide facial injuries at an airline ticket counter. The woman at first said she was fine, but later broke down crying and said she had been kidnapped, the TSA said.
The officers separated the woman from her four travel partners, leading to her rescue and the arrest of two women in the group on kidnapping and other charges, the TSA said.
“Our officers recognized that the woman was in danger and acted immediately to protect her,” said Mark Hatfield, the TSA’s federal security director for Miami International Airport.
The July 5 incident, first reported Tuesday by Miami television station NBC 6, comes amid continued election year criticism of the agency.
On Wednesday, a House homeland security subcommittee held a hearing titled “Breach of Trust: Addressing Misconduct Among TSA Screeners.”
According to a report by the North Miami Police Department, the kidnapping victim and four friends came to Miami from New Jersey to celebrate the Fourth of July. The following day — July 5 — the woman was alone at a Best Western hotel when her four friends returned from an outing, apparently intoxicated, the police report says.
While the victim was lying in bed, one of the women accused her of having intimate relations with her boyfriend and “began to violently punch her numerous times in the face,” the report says. When the woman stopped punching her, a second woman punched the victim in the face several times.
The victim locked herself in a bathroom, but was again struck by her two attackers when she exited the bathroom. The two other friends “refused to get involved,” the report says.
When the victim tried to leave the room several minutes later, her attackers dragged her back inside and demanded money from her bank account, the report says.
The group packed their belongings, checked out of the hotel and went to an ATM, where they withdrew money from the victim’s account, it says.
The group went to the Miami airport, and while they were at a ticket counter, a TSA behavior detection officer thought they looked suspicious. The officer said that one woman “didn’t seem comfortable with the people she was traveling with,” the TSA said in a statement. The victim at first said she was fine, but a TSA officer “re-engaged the woman and she broke down crying and stated she was kidnapped,” the statement said.
“The victim was pulled away by TSA Agents before reaching the travel document check point and Airport Police were called,” the TSA said.
Police questioned the woman’s four travel partners and arrested the two women. Police identified the women as a 19-year-old resident of Secaucus, New Jersey, and a 25-year-old resident of North Bergen, New Jersey.
They are charged with kidnapping, false imprisonment, strong-arm robbery, aggravated assault and petty theft.
At Wednesday’s hearing on TSA screener misconduct, the TSA said criticism of the agency comes chiefly from the media, bloggers and politicians. TSA Deputy Administrator John Halinski said of the 600 million passengers screened every year, 750,000 travelers initiate contact with the TSA, of which less than 8% register complaints.
“When you look at the large number of passengers that are going through, I think that statistic speaks for itself,” Halinski said.