Cindy McCain is apologizing after reporting suspected human trafficking at the Phoenix airport because she saw a woman and child who were not the same race
Cindy McCain is apologizing after recently reporting suspected human trafficking at the Phoenix airport because she saw a woman and child together who were not the same race — but her fears turned out to be unfounded.
Police investigated and said there was “no evidence” of wrongdoing, according to local news.
Initially, the widow of Sen. John McCain told Arizona radio station KTAR on Monday: “I came in from a trip I’d been on and I spotted — it looked odd — it was a woman of a different ethnicity than the child, this little toddler she had, and something didn’t click with me.”
“I went over to the police and told them what I saw, and they went over and questioned her,” McCain, a co-chair of the Arizona governor’s Council on Human Trafficking, recalled, “and, by God, she was trafficking that kid … She was waiting for the guy who bought the child to get off an airplane.”
KTAR reports that Phoenix police looked into the incident at McCain’s request.
But Sgt. Armando Carbajal told KTAR and the Arizona Republic that authorities conducted a welfare check on a child at the airport on Jan. 30 and “officers determined there was no evidence of criminal conduct or child endangerment.”
(Phoenix police did not respond to PEOPLE’s request for comment.
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Some critics online said McCain, 64, was acting out of bias. “Cindy McCain racially profiled a family,” one Twitter user wrote.
Another tweeted, referring to Bridget McCain, “It’s especially baffling because Cindy McCain herself has an adopted child of a ‘different ethnicity’!”
McCain has since apologized for the confusion on Twitter, writing, “At Phoenix Sky Harbor, I reported an incident that I thought was trafficking. I commend the police officers for their diligence.”
She continued: “I apologize if anything else I have said on this matter distracts from ‘if you see something, say something,’ ” referencing the Department of Homeland Security’s campaign to involve citizens in “protecting our homeland.”
In a statement to PEOPLE on Thursday, the McCain Institute, where McCain is the board of trustees, said she “was only thinking about the possible ramifications of a criminal act not the color of the possible trafficker.”
“Cindy McCain has devoted her career to combating the scourge of Human Trafficking at home in Arizona and around the world,” the institute said. “Trafficking is a criminal enterprise that involves every age, gender and race. Traffickers enslave their victims for profit. … [McCain’s] hyper sensitivity to looking for trafficking in this instance was not correct, but it should in no way distract from the broader importance that we all have a responsibility to be aware of this kind of crime.
“This incident should in no way discourage anyone from reporting potential trafficking issues to law enforcement.”