Half of All Autistic Kids Will Run Away, Tragedy Often Follows

Deaths Are Quick and Quiet

"We make recommendations to law enforcement about things they should be doing immediately," said Lee Manning, a former Massachusetts state trooper and now a consultant for the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children.

"[Police] have to respond very seriously and not waste any time. One of the things we strongly recommend is to get first responders, even neighbors, dispatched to local bodies of water right away," said Manning a member of Team Adam, a nationwide rapid response team of retired cops that helps law enforcement on the most difficult missing children cases.

Tragedies like the deaths of Savannah and Alyvia rarely make the front pages of newspapers or the morning television programs.

Their deaths are quick and quiet. But there is another class of autistic elopers who beat the odds with such astonishing results that law enforcement officials and rescuers are studying them to learn how best to search for runaways in the future.

On the same day Alyvia went missing, so did Angelo Messineo.

Angelo is a 16-year-old boy with a severe form of autism. A ward of the state, he is nonverbal and prone to violent outbursts. He "bolted from school after some sort of incident" in Lithonia, Ga., according to investigators.

Police scoured the woods of DeKalb County, Ga., for four days with few clues. Angelo was found April 20 on a horse farm 14 miles from where he was last seen. He was identified by police after an altercation with other teenagers.

He was taken to a nearby hospital and treated for dehydration.

Calls for comment to the DeKalb County School District were referred to the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children.

'They Tend to Burrow Down and Hide'

Unaffected children tend to panic, they walk in loops, they take dangerous risks in an attempt to save themselves, but children with autism tend to "have a diminished sense of fear," Lowery of the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children said.

"There's a different search criteria for children with autism. They tend to burrow down and hide. We don't know if it's because they fear searchers or if it's a kind of game. They seem to realize the peril they're in," he added

Two of the largest missing children searches in recent years involved kids with autism.

In 2010, 11-year-old Nadia Bloom was found by a volunteer after spending four days in an alligator-infested swamp in Florida. She was dehydrated and covered in insect bites.

In 2011, the largest manhunt in Virginia history took place more than six days as volunteers and rescuers scoured a dense forest looking for 8-year-old Robert Wood Jr., who ran off while visiting a state Civil War park with his father.

Robert was found alive by a volunteer, who has remained anonymous even to the boy's family, in a quarry about a mile from where he went missing. When he was found, he was in a fetal ball and burrowed in the dirt.

The search for Robert has become an important model for rescuers who conduct searches for children with autism.

"We knew never to take him where there was a pond," his grandmother Norma Williams said. "Like many autistic children, Robert is fearless. He doesn't feel pain. He doesn't fear heights. He doesn't fear water, but he can't swim. He'll jump off just about anything."

Many of the things that attract autistic children, often to their demise, were in the park trails that connected to rivers, roads and railroad tracks.

For five nights, Williams camped outside the park in her truck praying and waiting for news of Robert.

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