The seventh-grade boy was fourteen and autistic. His mother had put him on the bus as usual one winter morning, but he didn’t come home after school. The authorities were called, and a description of the young man was given to the media. Police searched wooded areas around the school but found no sign of him. Search parties, both professional and volunteer, were formed and continued working, distributing flyers, re-checking the woods, and searching high-traffic areas. The State Police were involved, sending helicopters to assist.
As the temperatures dropped and the days passed, fears mounted, and the search continued. Various surveillance videos were checked, and although there was no current sign of the boy anywhere, he was spotted on his school’s cameras – getting off his morning bus and walking away from school, ten hours before anyone realized he was missing.
It was later determined that not only was there never a phone call to the parents to check on this disabled boy’s absence, the school’s attendance roster had him marked as “present” in at least three classes.
Four days after the boy’s mother put him on his school bus, two miles away from his school, the boy was found. Sunday evening, a body was pulled from the nearby river, and Monday morning, it was positively identified as the missing boy.
It was also later determined that several people had seen the frightened boy on the bridge, at the river, on the wrong side of the railing. Many had called 911 that morning, several hours before the boy was reported as missing. No emergency response was dispatched.
Many questions, however, remain. How does a teenage boy step off the school bus, turn around and walk away from the crowd, with no staff member or other student noticing? How does a seventh-grader get marked as “present” for his classes when he hasn’t even set foot in the building that day? And how does a mentally handicapped child disappear from school and nobody even notices until ten hours later? Why was no police or fire truck dispatched when the boy was reported in a dangerous position over the river, as, we’re told, is standard procedure in these cases?
This was one boy, in one school district, in one city. But if we’re honest with ourselves, it could have been anyone’s son or daughter, in any place or time. A confused child, indifferent peers, careless teachers, poorly trained emergency operators — and just like that, the nightmare comes true, and a family – a community – is grieving the loss of a child.