Would-be hijacker's apology too late - Cincinnati News, FOX19-WXIX TV

Would-be hijacker's apology too late

  NORWOOD, Ohio (AP) - At a time when the world still was getting accustomed to the term "plane hijacking," 14-year-old David Booth was in the headlines for one.

In November 1969, the Norwood High School freshman made an abortive attempt to hijack a plane at then-Greater Cincinnati Airport, forcing his way aboard a Delta flight by threatening an 18-year-old Milford girl with a knife. Police, however, talked Booth into surrendering before the plane left the ground.

 Nearly four decades later, Booth, increasingly introspective after being given an iffy prognosis by doctors following a massive heart attack and strokes, wanted to apologize to Gloria Jean House. Unfortunately, he's 13 years late. Gloria Jean House Griffis died in 1996 from throat cancer.

 When a reporter informed Booth - who had contacted The Enquirer seeking help in locating the woman - he broke down and cried uncontrollably for nearly a minute. "Oh, my goodness, no," he said, choking out the words. "I'm so sorry, so, so sorry. "The one big regret I've had is that in 40 years I never was able to apologize to that girl. Now I can't. Oh, this is terrible. I'm so sorry for Gloria Jean and her family."

The lives of Booth and House intersected briefly - but dramatically - when the two headed to the airport for very different reasons early on the morning of Nov. 10, 1969. Gloria Jean and her mother had gone to see her grandmother, who had never flown before, off on a trip to Mexico that she had won from Swallens, where she worked. Booth, meanwhile, hoped to take a trip himself - one that initially did not involve becoming one of the youngest would-be hijackers in history.

 A self-described "confused, messed-up kid," Booth had a troubled childhood spent partly in foster homes. When his older brother Tom, one of the few sources of stability in his life, moved to Massachusetts, the distraught youth hatched a half-baked scheme to fly there to live. After sneaking off with one of his father's checks, Booth headed to the airport to buy a ticket. He filled out the check incorrectly, however, and was told by ticket agents that he needed a new one. When Booth called home, his school already had reported him missing from classes. That led to a blistering conversation with his father, who made it clear he would sorely regret his stunt when he got home. And then, Booth said, "I just snapped."

 Booth walked to the first gate he saw - Gate 5, where Gloria Jean's grandmother was boarding a Delta flight to Chicago on the first leg of her trip. He grabbed Gloria Jean, flashed a knife - one he had, he says, "for protection" - and forced her onto the tarmac. As Booth marched the terrified girl toward the Delta flight, her mother shouted for help. "I was really scared after he put that knife at my side and said, 'You're going with me, we're going to Sweden,"' Gloria Jean said, according to news reports at the time. Told by a Delta official that a DC-9 was incapable of crossing the Atlantic, he switched his demand to Mexico.

Booth, who claimed to also have a bomb - which turned out to be an ink bottle with a wick in it - assured the girl he did not intend to hurt her. "He told me to scream when he told me to, to make people think he was hurting me, so I did," Gloria Jean said. Booth allowed the 68 passengers to deplane, after which authorities, "to make a show," taxied the plane onto a runway. Airport police and other officials then boarded the plane to try to convince Booth to surrender, as Gloria Jean also had. After police and the FBI promised not to press charges, he tossed down the knife. None of the passengers or five crew members was injured.

 "It wasn't a very well-thought-out plan, to say the least," said Booth, a 54-year-old retired chemical worker who now lives in Tennessee. "All I was thinking about was finding some way to go see my brother."

Although hijacking or attempted hijacking is a federal offense with possible sentences that include the death penalty or a lengthy prison term, federal officials agreed to allow local authorities to handle the case. Booth's father filed papers with Hamilton County Juvenile Court to have him declared incorrigible. Judge Benjamin Schwartz, who found something worth saving in the teen, sentenced him, not to juvenile detention, but to six months in the Bob Hope House, a home for vulnerable children. The compassionate treatment, Booth says, helped him get his life back on the right track.

 He went on marry, raise two sons and a stepdaughter, and to a successful career at a New Hampshire chemical plant. "If I did something like that today, they'd lock me up and throw away the key," Booth said. "The judge realized that even kids who do wrong need to be treated like kids. That message gets lost today." The frailty of his health, Booth said, has turned his thoughts back to his youthful mistake - and in particular, to Gloria Jean House. "I want to make my amends, I want to make my peace," Booth said. Gloria Jean, however, will never hear his apology. Her sister, Lynn Panno, who lives in Clermont County near Goshen, said her sister died in July 1996 at only 44.

 A professional dancer who appeared with the Cincinnati Summer Opera ballet while still in high school, Gloria Jean later performed with Disney on Parade, on cruise ships and on several TV shows, including a George Burns special. After living in California in the 1970s, she returned home in the 1980s to run her own dance studio in Milford.

The attempted hijacking, Panno said, had a lifelong impact on her sister. For the first several years afterward, she often had nightmares and woke up screaming, convinced someone was in her room. Decades later, she still was uncomfortable being in close proximity with strangers, "because of the way she'd been grabbed that time," Panno said. For that reason, to avoid crowds, the sisters often did their shopping in the very early morning hours at 24-hour stores.

 Gloria Jean's first marriage to another dancer ended in divorce, and after returning home, she married a family friend. They had no children, and her second husband died several years ago.

 "I'm glad to know he's sorry," Panno said of Booth. "I have seven kids and I know teenagers do many stupid things without thinking. Should that condemn you for life? I don't think so." And how would her sister perhaps feel about what Booth wanted to say to her? "I don't hold it against him now and I don't think she would, either," Panno said. "She was a very loving and generous person, a very forgiving person. I'm sure she'd forgive him. I know she would."

(Copyright 2009 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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