POTOMAC, Md. (FOX 5 DC) — Two local families are counting their blessings after experiencing scares over the weekend when two non-verbal children with autism went missing in Maryland and Virginia.
A five-year-old boy was found in the woods in a neighborhood off of Seven Locks Road in Potomac after going missing for nearly two hours. Meanwhile, in Loudoun County, the sheriff’s office had to ask the public for help identifying a boy found wandering.
Officials tell FOX 5 they face situations like this all the time and as community members, we can all do our part to avoid any tragedies.
In Montgomery County, a woman watched police body camera video of the moments when her five-year-old nephew was found and returned to her Saturday afternoon. Police say he had walked right out the families front door — and was missing for nearly two hours.
Officer Chris Jordan heard him whimpering and spotted him standing at the edge of a creek, soaking wet.
Autism and IDD outreach officer Laurie Reyes says police are trained to know both children and adults with autism are often drawn to water.
“There are many schools of thought as to why some believe it’s a sensory release to be in water,” said Reyes. “Pools, ponds, drainage, ditches... in this case — a creek bed."
Reyes says they deal with calls like this frequently.
“There’s really no rhyme or reason for us. It’s usually about three to eight a week,” said Reyes.
In many cases, police locate the person before caregivers even realize they’re missing. That’s what happened the very next day in Loudoun County.
The sheriff’s office asked for help with identifying a non-verbal boy found wandering along Route 7 in Ashburn. The 10-year-old was eventually returned to his family.
Officials stress the use of electronic identification bracelets.
Loudoun County even has a drone outfitted with an antenna that can pick up their signal to search heavily wooded or hard to reach areas.
In the Potomac case, neighbors saw police searching and stepped up as well. A teenager found the little boy’s shoes which helped police know which direction to go.
“In this case, you have an entire community, plus an incredible young person who stepped up to do the right thing and bring a positive solution,” said Reyes.
Reyes says community members play a big role so if you see a person wandering and they seem out of place, don’t hesitate to call 911.