Man assaults 13-year-old on flight, says she’ll ‘never see her family again,’ feds say

While most passengers on a Delta Air Lines red-eye flight were asleep, a man repeatedly groped a 13-year-old girl next to him and threatened to kidnap her from her family members, who were seated two rows away, federal prosecutors say.

Brian Patrick Durning, 52, grabbed the girl’s chest after she tried stopping him when he started rubbing his leg against her and touching her once the lights were dim on the flight from Los Angeles to Orlando on June 24, 2022, according to court documents.

He told her “you are never going to see your family again” and said he would take her to Texas, a sentencing memorandum filed in court says.

The girl had a panic attack and “couldn’t speak” during the assault, which was stopped by a nearby passenger, the sentencing memo says.

The passenger, a woman sleeping next to the girl, awoke and intervened when she saw “one of (his) hands between the child’s legs,” according to prosecutors and the sentencing memo.

Durning then tried grabbing the woman’s chest after she called the flight attendants and switched seats with the girl, the sentencing memo says.

In court documents later submitted by Durning’s defense attorney, he wrote alcohol was a factor in his behavior on the flight.

Now, a judge has sentenced Durning, of Altadena, California, to five years in federal prison for assaulting a minor on an aircraft, the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Middle District of Florida announced in a Sept. 27 news release. His sentence will be followed by three years of supervised release.

McClatchy News contacted Jeremy Lasnetski, Durning’s attorney for comment on Sept. 28 and didn’t receive an immediate response.

In a statement to McClatchy News on Sept. 28, Delta Air Lines said the company “has no tolerance for unlawful conduct.”

The assault left the girl experiencing nightmares and with “significant mental and emotional trauma,” the sentencing memo says.

Her mother testified in court about the impact on her daughter and said she “did not want to hang out with her friends...didn’t want to leave the house…didn’t want to go anywhere…wouldn’t go to the beach…wouldn’t wear a bathing suit…didn’t want to go back to school,” according to the sentencing memo.

In a sentencing memo submitted on Durning’s behalf, Lasnetski wrote his client was arrested three times before the current case and all his arrests have involved alcoholic beverages.

“Mr. Durning lacked judgment when he became intoxicated prior to a cross-country flight. He became intoxicated, touched several passengers in an offensive manner,” Lasnetski wrote. “(He) is truly sorry for his actions and how they have negatively impacted (the girl),”

Ahead of Durning’s sentencing, prosecutors said that the girl was “particularly vulnerable” because she has “selective mutism” in their sentencing memo.

Selective mutism is considered an anxiety disorder that renders a person unable to speak in some social situations, according to the National Health Service in the U.K.

“(The girl) can’t live a normal life because of what (Durning) did to her. There is no certainty that she will ever recover from these injuries or how her life will be affected in the future,” prosecutors wrote.

In 2022, the number of sexual misconduct cases aboard flights in the U.S. more than tripled since 2018, according to federal prosecutors.

Last year, the FBI investigated more than 90 sexual misconduct cases — and 2023 “is on pace to surpass” that number, the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Western District of Washington announced in an Aug. 9 news release.

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