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Autistic boy fled airport so he wouldn't have to return to school

October 21, 2011 |  9:31 am

Cameron James Smith

The parents of an autistic teen who left Bob Hope Airport on Wednesday and was found hours later in West Hollywood did not pay the airline for an attending escort, an aviation source said — allowing the boy to escape the notice of officials until he was long gone.

Cameron James Smith was scheduled to fly to a specialized school in Salt Lake City. When he was found seven hours later, he told police he was running away because he did not want to return to the school, the Burbank Leader reported.

Cameron was spotted a little after 5:30 p.m. by two people in the heart of West Hollywood. They recognized him from a news alert they had received on their smartphones.

They informed Cameron the police were looking for him, and he ducked into the Pizza Rustica restaurant near Santa Monica and San Vicente boulevards, Burbank Police Sgt. Darin Ryburn said.

They followed him into the restaurant, where Cameron locked himself in the restroom. They called the Burbank Police Department, and Los Angeles County sheriff's deputies contacted the boy in the restaurant.

Cameron was brought back to the Burbank Police Department, interviewed and released to his mother, Ryburn said.

Earlier in the morning, Cameron's mother had taken him to the airport to make sure he boarded a 10:30 a.m. Delta Connection flight safely. But when the plane experienced mechanical problems, it returned to the gate, where the passengers exited the aircraft, according to airport officials.

Cameron left the airport and took a shuttle to the airport's entrance, where he caught a bus to West Hollywood, Burbank police said.

The aviation source, who requested anonymity because they were not authorized to speak publicly on the matter, said Thursday that Cameron's parents did not pay an unaccompanied minor fee and told the airline that Cameron was older than 14. They also did not tell the airline he was autistic with high-functioning Asperger's syndrome, the source said.

Each airline has its own guidelines for minor passengers. The policy at SkyWest, which operates Delta Connection, is that an unaccompanied minor fee must be paid for passengers 14 and younger who are flying alone, an official for the airline said.

Airport officials on Wednesday said the boy's mother, whom authorities have not identified, told them that her son was 14. In later conversations with Burbank police, officers said she told them he was 15.

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Photo: Cameron James Smith. Credit: Airport security video / KTLA-TV, Channel 5

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