Bells was an all-black, 2-year-old rescue cat traveling with the Dale family and her feline sibling Charlee

This year continues to be a tragic one for pets and air travel. In the wake of a Pomeranian dog’s death on a Delta flight earlier in June, and a string of troublesome airline incidents throughout the spring — most notably the scandalous death of a French bulldog named Kokito aboard a United Airlines flight in March — a new and disturbing story is making the rounds about a pet cat lost and later found dead at Baltimore-Washington Airport last week.

According to WMAR2 News, Bells, an all-black, 2-year-old rescue, and her feline sibling, Charlee, were first-time flyers accompanying their owners, the Dales, a military family in the process of moving to Hawaii.

Sandra Dale, the cat’s parent, told WMAR2 that she and her 13-year-old son arrived to the airport three-and-a-half hours early for their 9:30 a.m. flight, yet they, as well as the cats, were stuck at the TSA check-in line for hours, causing them all to be late for their flight. Dale says the group finally made it to the TSA check point without a moment to spare, took the cats out for inspection, and then securely placed them back into their crates.

“I put her back in and I close the carrier. I know how to use the carrier, obviously they should too. I took Charlee out, did the same thing, put her back in closed up,” Dale tells WMAR2. The cat owner also recalled a TSA worker telling her to hurry to make her flight and that the cats would be taken care of.

Arriving to the departure gate three minutes after the plane was supposed to take off, Dale was relieved at first to get on board. But then she heard chatter about cats over the flight’s radio, and a phone call was directed her way.

“I was like, ‘Okay maybe they’re just giving us a new flight …’ It was a lady and she said I know you don’t want to hear this but one of your cats isn’t in the crate,” Dale says. Inexplicably, Bells had escaped from her carrier while the animals were being transported to the plane.

“The crate had been opened before,” Dale explained, “it wasn’t clasped, but it was shut and they had one zip tie at the top.”

Although one airport employee thought they saw the cat, Dale compares the frantic search to looking for a needle in a haystack. After 10 hours of searching “every single inch” of the airport and no Bells, the family retired to a hotel near the airport. The next morning they got the bad news: Bells was found dead under a conveyor belt.

However, Dale does not believe this is the cause of death. After taking the deceased pet to her vet and conducting X-rays and more tests, Dale believes the cat was run over and possibly placed below the conveyor belt. “It was definitely this morning because when I looked at her … and I pet her, she was really warm still … and her paws were soft and bending,” she says.

In her opinion, this devastating and frustrating event could’ve been avoided if TSA had properly checked in the family and their pets in the three-and-a-half hours time they spent waiting prior to finally arriving late at their gate.

WMAR2 reports that the airline, Delta, has been helpful to the Dales, giving them a place to stay while working on getting the family on a new flight to Hawaii with their other cat, Charlee.

PEOPLE has reached out to the BWI Airport and the TSA for comment, while WMAR2 provides a statement from Delta:

“Delta extends our deepest condolences to Bells’ family as we know the safety and well being of pets while in our care is extremely important. We are conducting a thorough review of this unfortunate situation to understand how Bells may have escaped from her kennel and ensure this does not happen again. We continue to work closely with the family, offering our full support and help during this difficult time.”