Officials with the Burbank Police Department said 15-year-old Cameron James Smith was found near a restaurant in West Hollywood just after 6 p.m.
It was an ABC7 Eyewitness News cellphone text alert with the description of the teen that helped the manager of the Abbey Food and Bar in West Hollywood recognize Smith when the teen walked into the popular bar and allegedly ordered an alcoholic beverage.
"He had said his name was George and after that he seemed very uncomfortable," said Abbey manager Nicholas Lambert. "I asked him his age. He said 17."
That's when Lambert said the teen quickly headed for the exit and ran out of the Abbey, but Lambert chased him.
Lambert said Smith threw his shoes into some bushes and ran barefooted into the bathroom of a nearby pizza restaurant. When the boy came out, Lambert was waiting for him and called police.
"He was frantic and shaking," Lambert said. "He wouldn't really talk and I had let him know at that time there were people looking for him and it was important he get back to his parents."
The boy was handcuffed for his own safety and for the safety of the officers, said Darin Ryburn of the Burbank Police Department.
Wearing dark sunglasses, Smith left the police station with his mother and another woman.
The incident began when Smith was taken to the airport by his parents, who ensured he had boarded his Delta flight to Salt Lake City where he attends a special needs school.
Mechanical issues delayed the flight and passengers exited the plane about 10:30 a.m., according to airport spokesman Victor Gill.
The teen reportedly boarded Burbank Airport Shuttle No. 96 and exited the shuttle at a city bus stop near the intersection of Hollywood Way and Thornton Avenue, according to Gill.
"He asked a shuttle driver at the airport how to get to Hollywood, and he explained to him to get on an MTA bus and how to get down there," Ryburn said. "He did not have any money with him. He asked and borrowed some money from people on one of the buses."
Airport police were notified of the incident shortly after noon and a search involving Burbank airport police, Burbank city police, Burbank-Glendale Air Support and Los Angeles police had been launched.