Feb. 18, 2014
Crete resident Kelly Hallin has established a new rule with her 15-year-old Autistic son since he wandered away from home on a day cold enough to shut down area schools and suspend some Metra rail service.
“You can’t take walks until it’s 50 degrees (Fahrenheit),” Hallin recalls telling the youth, who left their home in the Laurel subdivision the evening of Jan. 28 after taking out the garbage.
A 10-minute search of the neighborhood south of the intersection of Selleck and Division streets failed to produce the teen, whose only outerwear was a black hooded sweatshirt.
The search begins in earnest
“She contacted us at 18:45 hours (6:45 p.m.),” Police Chief Jim Paoletti recalls, adding police initially attempted to locate the cell phone Josh had taken with him.
Josh, however, had removed the tracking function.
An attendant at the Marathon gas station — 5-6 blocks from Josh’s home — told police a teen fitting Josh’s description had tried to break a $100 bill. Josh had taken the money from his mother, Paoletti said.
Police picked up a second lead with the discovery of Josh’s bike outside a grocery store on Main Street, but he was nowhere to be found.
With daylight gone and the trail growing almost as cold as the evening air, Paoletti turned to Crete’s Emergency Management Agency.
A lucky coincidence
As luck would have it, the 10-member volunteer group had just assembled for a training session led by EMA Director Marty Braccio.
“They mobilized and met at the home, Paoletti said, adding, “Marty directed the ground search.”
Hallin said she knows now that her son was making his way to a pond north of the Holland Company.
“He got wet and he just kept going,” she said.
Allison, Crouse come through
Braccio had the EMA team set up “an ever-widening pie-shaped grid” at Lumber and First streets after learning Josh had been spotted near Crete Lumber.
“In very short order” EMA officers Ryan Allison and Bill Crouse located the youth, Paoletti said.
Hallin praised the EMA and police effort, saying, “They did a great job finding him and keeping him safe.”
‘Always been a wanderer’
Hallin said Josh wasn’t running away from home “in the typical sense. He decided to go for a walk.”
Josh, Hallin said, is the only one of her five children with Autism.
“He has always been a wanderer; it’s very common,” she said. “Half the people with Autism wander.
“Children with Autism are very drawn to water; it’s soothing and it’s calming,” she said.
Still, Josh’s two-hour disappearance was a complete surprise.
“It never crossed my mind, it never crossed my partner, Jennifer’s, mind,” Hallin said.
‘You should keep an eye on him’
Hallin acknowledges Josh would probably wander again and some people would suggest, “You should keep a better eye on him.”
But a teen turning 16 in October shouldn’t be treated like a child, she said.
“As a parent, I strive for my children to be as independent as possible,” she said.
But she’s ruled out placing a tracking device on Josh after realizing how easily he disabled his cell-phone’s tracking device.
He’s smart enough to disable a cell phone, “but not smart enough to prepare for the weather,” she quipped, noting Josh was subsequently treated for frostbitten hands and feet.
Autism experts say people with Autism often are blunt and miss social cues, making social interaction difficult.
Hallin said she moved Josh to a therapeutic day school after fifth grade because he was being bullied and beaten by other students at his regular school.
Josh, now a high school freshman, “is thriving,” she said, adding, “There needs to be more awareness.”
Josh also “has no concept of time,” she said, noting the family asked him if he thought no one would notice he was gone. “Yes,” he said.
Hallin said she was keenly aware of every second .
“It felt like an eternity.”
Original material copyright 2014 Eastern Will County News; all rights reserved.
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