Flight School Staffers Accused of Kidnapping After Alleged Threat to Send Student 'Back to China'
Tianshu Shi had been studying on a visa in California to become a pilot through a program sponsored by his Chinese university
Two employees of a California flight school are suspected of kidnapping after Redding police say they showed up at the apartment of a Chinese student last week to say they were “sending him back to China,” PEOPLE confirms.
When Tianshu Shi initially refused to accompany the school employees — identified as Kelsi Hoser, 50, and 48-year-old Jonathan McConkey — McConkey allegedly battered Shi and threatened physical violence, Sgt. Gary Meadows said in a news release.
“He obviously did not want to go, which led to this investigation,” Sgt. Danny Smetak tells PEOPLE.
The incident began when McConkey and Hoser, his assistant, first showed up to Shi’s apartment on Thursday night and then returned Friday morning “to carry out this action” and make him leave, Meadows said in his statement.
The pair did not tell Shi why they allegedly wanted him to return to China, Cpl. Rob Peterson said, according to the Los Angeles Times.
“I’ve got your [expletive] passport, you’re leaving now,” a male voice told Shi during a verbal exchange at Shi’s apartment Friday morning, according to Shi’s recording of the confrontation, which he shared with the Record Searchlight newspaper.
“The United States government needs you out of this country right now, you understand?” the male voice continued.
“You are here illegal, you know that,” an unidentified female voice later is heard saying on the recording. “If you don’t go with us, you go to jail.”
Shi, who also goes by the name Chris, is a student at IASCO Flight Training school in Redding, which operates a pilot certification course in partnership with the Civil Aviation Administration of China to train pilots, according to the school’s website.
He has been in the United States for about seven months under an M-1 visa granted to those who enroll in vocational programs and said the Civil Aviation Flight University of China had paid about $70,000 for his training at IASCO, the Record Searchlight reports.
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Police said that, “in fear for his safety,” Shi eventually went with Hoser and McConkey to the Redding Municipal Airport. But during the altercation at his apartment he had called his brother in China, who then alerted local police.
Officers located the three individuals at the Redding airport and later arrested and booked Hoser and McConkey on suspicion of kidnapping and conspiracy to commit crime, police say.
They’ve since posted bail and been released from the Shasta County Jail, records show.
It is unclear if they’ve entered pleas and they could not immediately be reached directly.
Attorneys for the two were not identified, and a voicemail message left by PEOPLE at the flight school was not immediately returned on Monday.
Cpl. Peterson, characterizing the case as strange, told the L.A. Times that Hoser allegedly said Shi was being sent back because he was not proficient enough in English. Hoser told officers Shi had been removed from the training program in April, which Shi disputed, according to Peterson.
Shi told the Record Searchlight that he’d been “grounded” for the past two months, restricting his ability or fly or train at the school where students are “required to use English in all their communications to better prepare them for their pilot careers,” according to IASCO’s website.
“I can’t speak English well in life,” Shi said, “but I can speak English well with air traffic control.”