Ninety Minutes of Terror

The Malibu Search and Rescue Team worked with sheriffs and L.A. County Fire Dept. to rescue a missing boy with autism in Malibu last Friday evening.

Friday evening around 5:30 p.m., sheriffs and the Malibu Search and Rescue (SAR) Team searched for a missing 14-year-old boy with autism, who is unable to speak, after he wandered away from a house in Western Malibu.

The SAR Team was deployed and used air units, according to sheriffs. The search was later upgraded to a cliff rescue, according to David Katz with the SAR Team. Help was requested from the L.A. County Fire Dept. and the rescue personnel worked together to remove the boy from the canyon safely.

Unconfirmed reports stated that the boy was last seen wearing black sweatpants and a gray shirt, with socks and no shoes.

“Because there’s an autistic factor involved, we call that a critical missing,” Sgt. Wright with the Malibu/Lost Hills Sheriff’s Station said while the team was working on the rescue.

The boy was found safe and unharmed and was reunited with his family about two hours later, after being checked out by medics, who determined he was uninjured.

Sheriffs reported the child wandered approximately 175 yards down the canyon, where air units found him.

“Our air units spotted him and our rescue team repelled down to him and got him,” Sgt. Wright said. Wright added that sheriffs believe the boy wandered away by himself and there was no foul play involved.

Emily Sawicki contributed to this report.

The following was submitted by the mother of the missing boy, who recounted what happened that afternoon from her perspective. 

“It was just another day, Friday afternoon around 5:30 p.m. when I realized the door was left unlocked and my 14-year-old, nonverbal son with autism was missing.

It had been 45 minutes since anyone had seen him for sure, and he was nowhere to be found. I jumped in the car to search the neighborhood and called 911.

The sheriff told me to stay home and wait for them here, but I knew time was of the essence.  On foot, 45 minutes out, my son could still be nearby.

I drove around my street and there was nothing, no one anywhere. After getting to the main gate, I thought most likely he had not passed through it because it was closed. I went back and drove toward the end of my street to look down on my house in the canyon and look around.

I couldn’t see him anywhere. I called to him repeatedly, but since he can’t talk, he couldn’t answer anyway. So, I second guessed myself and went toward the local park, thinking he might be on the swing.

He was not there.

Back at the house, some sheriffs were there, asking me what my son had been wearing and if he could be heading to a nearby friend’s house. My assistant remembered he had been wearing black sweatpants and a gray top.

I begged them to hurry to find him because he doesn’t really understand the dangers of crossing the street.

The sheriffs asked for a photo of my son. I sat down at my computer to find a photo, and I was so anxious, I couldn’t remember where they were. Finally, I found his yearbook picture and printed out a few.

Since the back door had been left open, I was concerned my son had gotten out of the back yard and gone for a hike. The hillside by our house had about a 200 foot drop at spots.

The sheriffs waited 45 minutes or so for the helicopter to come. I was antsy, worrying where my son could have walked by the time help could arrive.

The helicopter arrived and in minutes spotted my son down at the bottom of the canyon. My husband saw him then too and he motioned to my neighbor’s brother how to guide my neighbor to my son, and he got to him.

What a relief! He was alive! The sheriff then told me the helicopter was leaving. I was hysterical.

‘Are you kidding me?’ I said. How would they get up? A minute later, a man dressed all in black, the head of the Search and Rescue Team said that they were going to rescue him.  And I started crying from relief.

After they made it back up, the medics checked my son for broken bones, dislocated limbs, and puncture wounds. He had splinters on the bottom of his feet, but otherwise he was fine, albeit a bit shaken up.

There are literally no words but ‘thank you’ to say at a time like that. So that’s what I said to all of the people who helped. So grateful to have my child back safe in my arms.

I told my son, ‘So you had quite an adventure. Next time, don’t forget to wear your shoes and bring a grown-up.’

Needless to say, we’re making sure the yard is more secure. In the chance that someday someone might accidentally leave open the door again, hopefully he has nowhere to run!

I found out later that the Sheriffs had started an Amber alert, and the whole area was crawling with undercover officers. They questioned everyone they found in the neighborhood. I also learned they could spot people from the helicopter with an infrared/thermal imaging device that can see body heat.

I am researching companies that track people with autism with satellite technology, hoping it works up here in the mountains. I am keeping photos handy so I don’t have to search my computer for them, and the neighbors suggested we get a neighborhood plan together in case my son wanders again. I also plan to memorize exactly what he is wearing every day, just in case.

It’s autism awareness month. I guess the neighborhood is aware of us now. Let’s hope some planning will prevent this from happening again. We are so lucky to have such caring neighbors and friends.”