DENVER (CBS)- It was already a tough trip for Colorado natives Mary MacCarthy and her daughter Moira. On Oct. 22, they were flying from their new home in L.A. to Denver because Mary’s brother Michael, Moira’s uncle, died suddenly from a blood clot.
They booked tickets on Southwest Airlines when they found out the bad news but getting those last-minute tickets caused a couple of issues. First, they were in the last boarding group for both their initial flight and their connection out of San Jose. Secondly, they couldn’t find seats next to one another on either flight.
Mary says she first asked flight attendants on both flights for help. When they told her they couldn’t, Mary resorted to asking strangers. On both flights she says fellow travelers helped her out and the mother and daughter were able to sit together. From then on, she says it was a fairly normal flight.
“I think I slept some of it. I chatted with the people next to me and my daughter and she listened to her audiobook,” said Mary.
When they landed at Denver International Airport, Denver police officers and a manager from Southwest were waiting for them. The flight attendants on her flight called the police because they suspected her of child trafficking. They gave three reasons for their assumptions. First, the pair boarded the planes late.
“That’s not true because we boarded with our boarding group,” said Mary.
They also said Mary and her daughter hadn’t spoken during the flight and that Mary had forbidden the flight crew from speaking to her daughter.
“Which just by no means is true,” said Mary.
According to the police report, the responding officer says Mary did not want to give information when they were contacted. Again, Mary disputes that. She recorded the encounter on her phone.
In the video, both the manager and Denver police officers confront Mary and Moira as they get off the flight. Moira can be heard crying as Mary nervously explains their situation.
Denver police officers reassure them they are not in trouble and explain why they are there. Ultimately the manager and officers said they understood the situation and apologized.
Mary and Moira went on their way, but 10 days later investigators called Mary to follow up on the case, which upset them again during a difficult time.
Ultimately Denver Police Department investigators found the claims made by the Southwest crew to be “Unfounded.”
Mary says she understands that it’s important to be on the lookout for child traffickers, but that Southwest employees lied to police about what happened on that flight and that she suspects the reason she was singled out in the first place is because she is white and her daughter is half Black.
“You can’t use awareness of human trafficking as an excuse for outright racism,” said Mary.
She wants Southwest Airlines and Denver police to be held accountable for the trauma they caused her and Moira. She says she is sharing her story because it’s important for her to use her white privilege to speak out for kids of color like her daughter, and because her brother Michael spent his life fighting for the powerless and she thinks it would be what he would want her to do.
“So that we have the type of United States of America we all want,” Mary said.
Southwest Airlines sent CBS4’s Michael Abeyta the following statement: “We were disheartened to learn of this mother’s account when traveling with her daughter. We are conducting a review of the situation internally, and we will be reaching out to the Customer to address her concerns and offer our apologies for her experience traveling with us. Our Employees undergo robust training on Human Trafficking. Above all, Southwest Airlines prides itself on providing a welcoming and inclusive environment for the millions of Customers who travel with us each year.