WRIGHT-PATTERSON AFB, Ohio (CBS CLEVELAND) — A spring break vacation turned into a nightmare for a Columbus family visiting the National Museum of the U.S. Air Force when four police officers in three cruisers drew guns and forced a grandmother and a mother to the ground as two young children screamed in fear from what authorities thought was a “stolen” vehicle.
Alice Hill, 65, her daughter-in-law Wendy Hill, 31, and Hill’s two children, Aaron, 8, and Brooke, 5, were pulling out of the museum parking lot after Aaron and Alice had counted the number of out-of-state cars on the way to their family minivan, WKRC-TV reports.
Unbeknownst to the family, an anonymous onlooker had called 911 and reported that the family was burglarizing vehicles in the parking lot.
On their way out of the lot, police pulled the vehicle over as one officer stood behind his door and drew his gun on Alice Hill, who was driving.
“I’m looking in my side view mirror and I see him step out of his vehicle,” Hill described to WKRC. “(He’s) behind his door with his gun drawn pointing it at me. I’m looking at my 8-year-old grandson, his eyes are full of tears and he says, ‘This is the worst day of my life.'”
Hill said she and her daughter-in-law were taken from the car at gunpoint, ordered to their knees, handcuffed, and detained in the back of a police cruiser, Dayton Daily News reports. Meanwhile, the two children screamed in fear in the backseat.
“My grandchildren are screaming,” Alice Hill recalled. “I mean they are hysterical, they saw the gun.”
“My 5-year-old daughter is asking, ‘Is grandma going to get shot?'” Wendy Hill told WKRC.
Alice Hill said that while they were detained the officer told them the license plates on their van were stolen. It was not until hours later that the Hill family was informed about the 911 call reporting them for burglary and the allegedly suspicious behavior of peering into car windows and looking at license plates.
WPAFB security officials said the incident turned out to be a misunderstanding, and that the authorities had followed protocol given the information reported through the 911 call.
“Our security force, based on limited information, made a high-risk traffic stop and believed that this vehicle was stolen based on the information they received,” CC Cassie Barlow, 88th Airbase Wing Commander at Wright-Patterson AFB, told the Daily News.
“An initial check of the vehicle plates with the National Law Enforcement Terminal System reported the vehicle as stolen,” according to a statement from the base Tuesday to the Daily News.
Base officials have since apologized to the Hill family.
“We sincerely regret the fact that their enjoyable day at the museum ended with this high-risk traffic stop,” their statement read, according to the Dayton News. “Had the vehicle not originally come back as stolen, this situation would have been resolved with a quick courtesy stop of the vehicle to clarify the initial report.”
“All we can do at this point is offer our apology to the Hills,” Barlow added. “And we’ve invited them to come out to the base and meet the security forces.”
But despite the apology, Wendy says the damage may already have been done to her son.
“My son doesn’t trust police officers now,” Wendy Hill said. “He views them as the bad guy.”