(BOSTON) — A now-former American Airlines flight attendant was arrested Thursday for attempting to record a minor female passenger using a bathroom aboard an aircraft he was working in September 2023, federal prosecutors in Boston said.
The defendant, Estes Carter Thompson III, 37, of Charlotte, North Carolina, is also alleged to have possessed recordings of four additional minor female passengers who also used bathrooms aboard the same aircraft.
Thompson was charged with one count of attempted sexual exploitation of children and one count of possession of child pornography depicting a prepubescent minor. Thompson was arrested in Lynchburg, Virginia, and will remain in custody pending an initial appearance in Virginia before he is transferred to Boston. ABC News was not immediately able to locate a legal representative for Thompson.”
“The deeply disturbing conduct alleged here is something no parent or child should ever have to worry about when they travel, U.S. Attorney Joshua Levy said. “Mr. Thompson allegedly used his position to prey on and surreptitiously record innocent children, including unaccompanied minors, while in a vulnerable state aboard flights he was working.”
Thomas was working an American Airlines flight from Charlotte to Boston on September 2, 2023 when prosecutors said a 14-year-old girl got up to use the main cabin lavatory nearest to where she was seated. Thompson allegedly approached her, told her that the first class lavatory was unoccupied and escorted her toward first class. Before the minor victim entered the lavatory, Thompson allegedly told her that he needed to wash his hands and that the lavatory’s toilet seat was broken, and briefly entered the lavatory.
After Thompson exited the lavatory, the minor victim entered and observed red stickers on the underside of the toilet seat lid, which was in the open position, that stated, “inoperative catering equipment” and “remove from service,” and “seat broken” was hand-written in black ink on one of the stickers, according to charging documents. It is alleged that, beneath the red stickers, Thompson concealed his iPhone to record a video. The minor victim used her phone to take a picture of the red stickers and the concealed iPhone she found in the lavatory before exiting, at which time Thompson allegedly re-entered it immediately, the charging documents read.
Prosecutors said the 14-year-old informed her parents of what she saw and showed them the picture. The victim’s parents reported the matter to other flight attendants onboard who notified the pilot. The pilot then told law enforcement. The teen’s father confronted Thompson who locked himself in the lavatory with his iPhone for three to five minutes prior to the flight’s descent.
Upon the flight’s arrival at Boston’s Logan Airport, law enforcement observed that Thompson’s iPhone may have been restored to factory settings, prosecutors said. It is alleged that a subsequent search of Thompson’s suitcase was found to contain 11 “inoperative catering equipment” stickers.
A search of Thompson’s iCloud account allegedly revealed four additional instances between January and August 2023 in which Thompson recorded a minor using the lavatory on an aircraft. The minor victims allegedly depicted in the surreptitious recordings were seven, nine, 11 and 14 years old at the time. Additionally, over 50 images of a nine-year-old unaccompanied minor were allegedly found in Thompson’s iCloud. The images included photos taken while the minor victim was seated in her seat pre-flight and close-ups of her face while sleeping.
“What Mr. Thompson is accused of doing is disgraceful, and we believe, calculated, given that this alleged conduct occurred on at least five flights,” said Jodi Cohen of the FBI.
Following Thompson’s arrest, American Airlines released a statement regarding the incident. “We take these allegations very seriously. They don’t reflect our airline or our core mission of caring for people. We have been fully cooperating with law enforcement in its investigation as there is nothing more important than the safety and security of our customers and team,” the company said.
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