Teen Who Stowed Away on Hawaiian Airlines Flight is Now in Custody of Santa Clara County Social Services

May 03--SAN JOSE -- The 15-year-old who ran away from home and stowed away in the wheel well of a Hawaii-bound jetliner two weeks ago has been sent back to California and on Saturday was in the custody of Santa Clara County social services, according to a source close to the family.

What happens next to Yahya Abdi, a Santa Clara High student and Somali refugee who is at the center of an international family drama, is unclear. But one thing is certain: His father who flew to Hawaii on Monday with clothing and gifts in hopes of reuniting with his son and bringing him home -- but whom sources say was not allowed to see or talk to him -- is returning home without him.

Kayla Rosenfeld, the spokeswoman for Hawaii's Department of Human Services, did not return phone calls on Saturday. But on Friday, she told the Associated Press that Yahya is "no longer in Hawaii."

Also Friday, a court hearing was held in Hawaii where a judge apparently transferred Yahya out of the custody of the Hawaii Department of Human Services and into the custody of Santa Clara County"s Department of Family & Children's Services, the source close to the family said. Officials at the Santa Clara agency did not return calls on Saturday, but previously had said that in cases similar to this, a child would be escorted on a flight by a social worker. That flight would likely be in the comfort of a ticketed seat this time.

The Council on American-Islamic Relations in Santa Clara, which is helping the family with the media, did not return calls Saturday.

Yahya's dramatic ordeal made international headlines and launched a congressional hearing about airport security after he hopped a barbed wire fence at Mineta-San Jose International Airport and climbed into the wheel-well of the nearest plane, which happened to be headed to Hawaii. The teen defied tremendous odds and survived the 5{-hour flight in subfreezing temperatures and extreme altitudes before landing at the Maui airport on April 20. He was captured on video there, his feet dangling from the wheel well, then weaving disoriented on the tarmac until he asked a luggage handler for a bottle of water.

He told authorities there he had run away from home after an argument with his father and stepmother and longed to see his birth mother, who lives in an Ethiopian refugee camp. He also complained to airport officials that his ears were hurting.

He remained in the hospital for more than 10 days with breathing difficulties.

In the days that followed the incident, a rift in the extended family led to accusations from the stepmother's cousin, Mukhtar Guled, that the stepmother and father treated their six youngest children "like kings and queens" and the older three children to the first wife "like trash."

Guled also arranged a phone interview last week with the birth mother, Ubah Mohammed Abdule, from the refugee camp. She echoed to reporters those accusations of mistreatment and said her ex-husband had told her children she had died in a rocket attack in Mogodishu and refused to allow her to contact them. The children found out only recently their mother was live, she said. She is hoping to reunite with them.

In an interview with KPIX last week, Yahya's two full siblings said neither they, nor their brother, were mistreated. In an interview with this newspaper, the stepmother said she considers Yahya her son and hopes "he comes home soon."

In an emailed statement last week, the father, Abdilahi Yusuf, called Yahya "a good kid who I love dearly." With no formal education in Somalia or during their time in a refugee camp before moving to the United States in 2006, he said, Yahya was "struggling adjusting to life" in America. Yahya recently transferred from Oak Grove High to Santa Clara, where the family of 12 now lives.


Contact Julia Prodis Sulek at jsulek@mercurynews.com



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