Aerial view of the National Museum of the United States Air Force in Dayton, Ohio. (Air Force)
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A family trip to the National Museum of the U.S. Air Force in Dayton, Ohio, ended with the adults, including a 65-year-old grandmother, forced from their van at gunpoint, ordered to their knees and handcuffed as two children, ages 5 and 8, looked on.
The Air Force said it was responding appropriately April 4 to what it believed was a stolen vehicle. It wasn’t.
The Hill family — grandmother Alice, mom Wendy, and children Aaron and Brook — said military police acted rashly and dangerously, bringing to a terrifying close what was supposed to be an educational trip over the kids’ spring break.
The Hills apparently first roused suspicion as they were leaving the museum at Wright Patterson Air Force Base, according to the story reported by NBC Channel 4 in Cleveland.
Aaron, 8, was fascinated by all the states represented on license plates in the parking lot, the station reported. He pointed them out to his family as they headed for their van.
When the family was pulled over on the way to the exit, Wendy Hill figured it was a routine traffic stop. But Alice Hill noticed three military police officers and one civilian police officer standing at the van with guns drawn.
Both women were ordered out while, Wendy Hill told the news station, her children screamed “hysterically.” Alice and Wendy Hill were told to drop to their knees. They were handcuffed and put into the back of a patrol car.
About an hour and a half after the ordeal began, Security Forces cleared the Hills of any wrongdoing.
Security Forces had received a report of a “suspicious vehicle” driving slowly through the museum parking lot “looking at vehicles,” Marie Vanover, director of Wright-Patterson Air Force Base Installation Public Affairs said in an email statement.
When the officers checked the Hills’ license plate with the National Law Enforcement Terminal System, it came back as stolen, according to the statement. “The Security Forces responded as trained and executed high-risk traffic stop procedures. Adult members were placed into restraints and segregated to ensure the safety of everyone at the scene.”
Further investigation, Vanover wrote, revealed the van wasn’t stolen after all. “Once that fact was confirmed and without any further evidence or report of vehicle break-ins, a report was filed and all vehicle occupants were released.”
Vanover said officials conveyed their regrets directly to the Hill family. If the van hadn’t come back as stolen, “this situation would have been resolved with a quick courtesy stop … to clarify the initial report.”
Based on the information Security Forces had at the time they pulled the van over, Vanover wrote, “they acted in accordance with procedures … to ensure the safety of museum patrons and the security of their property.”