An American Airlines flight attendant was arrested in Virginia on Thursday by federal agents who accused him of filming young girls in airplane bathrooms, federal prosecutors in Massachusetts said.
Estes Carter Thompson III, 36, was charged with sexual exploitation of children and possession of child pornography depicting a prepubescent minor. According to the U.S. Attorney's Office for the District of Massachusetts, he was caught in September by a 14-year-old girl he tried to record in the bathroom.
According to a probable cause affidavit obtained by HuffPost, Thompson approached the girl on a flight from Charlotte, North Carolina, to Boston.
Open image ModalAmerican Airlines aircraft stand on the tarmac at LaGuardia Airport in New York on January 11, 2023.
Thompson noticed the girl waiting outside the plane's lavatory, then offered her the first-class lavatory and escorted her there. Thompson then went into the bathroom in front of the girl and explained that he needed to wash his hands. When he came out he told her the toilet seat was broken.
According to the affidavit, the 14-year-old “felt like the amount of time he spent in the bathroom seemed a little too long to simply wash his hands.”
Under the lid of the toilet seat, the girl saw red stickers with handwritten words that read “INFUNCTIONAL CATERING EQUIPMENT,” “REMOVE FROM OPERATION” and “SEAT BROKEN,” according to the affidavit.
Open image ModalPhoto taken by the 14-year-old girl at American Airline via Paul T. Llewellyn
According to the affidavit, as the 14-year-old turned around to flush the toilet, she noticed an iPhone peeking out from behind them The stickers. The girl took a photo of the iPhone and stickers before leaving, after which Thompson allegedly immediately went into the restroom after she left.
According to the affidavit, the girl showed her parents a photo of the hidden iPhone when she returned to her seat. Her mother rushed to the bathroom and discovered that the stickers and iPhone were missing.
Agents said her father confronted the flight attendants on board, including Thompson, and demanded to see his iPhone. The father “saw the color drain from Thompson’s face,” the affidavit states read.
After the father confronted him, Thompson allegedly retreated to the bathroom with his phone and remained there until the plane approached.
Police at the scene met with Thompson and asked him to search his phone. According to the affidavit, police who searched Thompson's iPhone suspected he had reset the phone to factory settings. However, a search of Thompson's iCloud revealed that he had recorded young girls using the airplane bathroom at least four times, the affidavit said.
The girls captured by Thompson were ages 7, 9, 11 and 14 when the images were allegedly taken between January and August 2023.
Case documents say police found more than 50 photos of a 9-year-old, including images of her buttocks and close-ups taken while she was sleeping during a flight. and AI-generated material on child abuse.
A search of Thompson's suitcase also uncovered the stickers the 14-year-old girl had observed.
In a statement to HuffPost, American Airlines said the company “takes these allegations very seriously.”
“We have cooperated fully with law enforcement in the investigation as there is nothing more important than the safety of our customers and team,” the statement said.
According to the airline, Thompson has been banned from working for the airline since September and has not worked since.
Paul T. Llewellyn, an attorney representing the 14-year-old's family in a lawsuit against the airline, told HuffPost in an email that the incident “should never have been allowed to happen and should never happen again.”
“It is also shocking to hear that he allegedly preyed on at least five minors while they were flying American,” Llewellyn said. “While the criminal justice system must now take action against the flight attendant, it remains to be seen whether American Airlines will finally accept some degree of responsibility to the families for what happened.”
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