In early July of this year I saw the first report pop up the Facebook feed of one of the local news sources I "like" - 11 year old Autistic Menifee boy is missing! I immediately gathered as much information as I could before sharing (because I like to check the accuracy of things before posting).
A blond haired blue eyed boy named Terry Dewayne Smith Jr. had been missing since the night before. No picture yet, but one was expected soon. Hours later, which is a millennia in this day and age, a photo came out of a boy with sandy brown hair and brown eyes and a note that he will only respond to the name Juju. HUH? Was that the right photo? Which is correct, the description or the photo? Should searchers be yelling Terry or Juju?
The story that unfolded was
- inspirational (over 1000 people showed up over 4 days to help search in the midst of a blistering heat wave, plus thousands more following online, sending in contributions, posting flyers, etc)
- tragic (his body was found in a shallow grave near the house and his 16 year old half brother was arrested.
There was a lot of finger pointing, blaming and downright rudeness too. The mother and 16 year old sported plenty of piercings and tattoos and bore little resemblance to the ideal American family - whatever that is these days. I said it then and I will say it now - so what? Because a woman doesn't look like June Cleaver she should be treated as a suspect and reports shouldn't go out immediately to help find her child? Stereotype much? And if he had wandered off as some children on the spectrum do and something happened while the police were investigating the mother because she "just looked suspicious", then what would the second guessers have done. Blame the police.
What really stuck with me throughout the entire episode was the initial erroneous physical description and lack of photo. Many news agencies never updated the blond haired blue-eyed description, particularly the big boys out in Los Angeles 50-60 miles away that tend to look at anything that happens outside of the TMZ as in the wilds of suburbia that only deserves coverage if nothing more exciting is going on (things like Miley Cyrus or the Kardashian's latest antics).
A boy is missing, the public is being asked to help, but not given accurate information. No, it would not have made a difference in this case. But, for the other 2,000 that go missing in this country every day it might!
Whether Juju was autistic, had ADHD, or was emotionally distraught because of his home life we will probably never know. And it doesn't matter to the general public now anyway. But if my kid goes missing, you bet I want everyone looking to know he is autistic. He is not a wanderer and does not have a fascination with water that some do, but he has a innate shyness and obliviousness about him towards other people that makes it relevant to anyone searching for him.
But first you'd have to know what he looks like. I have 1000's of pictures of him that can be distributed electronically at a moments notice. Not everyone may be fortunate enough financially to have the camera, computer, phone etc. that we do. Which is why I thought it was cool that we got these wallet cards in the packet of J's school photos yesterday (with his face and info of course):