A Columbus family said their children were traumatized after what was meant to be a fun spring break trip to the National Museum of the United States Air Force turned into a tense nightmare.
Four police officers in three cruisers drew their guns on a grandmother, a mom and two young children in a Honda Odyseey minivan as they tried to leave Wright Patterson Air Force Base after visiting the museum.
Alice Hill, 65, her daughter-in-law Wendy Hill, and her two grandchildren Aaron, 8, and Brooke, 5, were headed out of the parking lot around 4 p.m. Friday. Aaron and Alice had been counting out of state cars as they headed to the family minivan.
That led to a 911 call from a suspicious onlooker who told authorities that they had been trying to break into cars in the lot.
Alice Hill and Wendy Hill said they were both handcuffed and ordered to their knees as the children screamed in fear.
WPAFB security officials said the incident turned out to be a misunderstanding after they believed the Hill family was riding in a stolen vehicle.
"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.
"Security forces responded as trained and executed high-risk traffic stop procedures. Further investigation of the full Vehicle Information Number revealed the vehicle was not stolen."
A witness had called security, reporting that the family was acting suspiciously, peering into various cars in the museum's parking lot. Hill told police she and Aaron were checking out license plates around the lot to see how far some visitors had traveled from.
"My son was excited to see different state license plates, especially the Alaska plate he saw on the way in," 31-year-old Wendy Hill told police. "We drove the lot to see if he missed any before we left to go home. That was when we were stopped."
She told Columbus' WCMH-TV that her children were traumatized by the event. She said Aaron doesn't trust police now and "thinks they're the bad guys and he's afraid of them."
Base officials have since apologized to the family.
"We sincerely regret the fact that their enjoyable day at the museum ended with this high-risk traffic stop," their statement read. "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."
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