Organization that helps locate missing autistic children face challenge of reaching parents

Posted at 3:14 PM, Nov 03, 2020

VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. -- David Collins has a six-year-old son with autism who has run away from home.

"My son is considered a runner,” Collins said. “Our son did get out and luckily he was right around the corner."

It could have been tragic, such as what happened in October when a 29-year-old woman with autism from Chesapeake was found dead off Bainbridge Blvd.

"We've heard the stories of kids, obviously, getting out fences,” Collins said, “running out of front doors and it's tragic."

However, an ankle monitor and receiver brings him some peace of mind. The devices are used by a group called Project Lifesaver.

"We have a 30-minute average of finding someone once we arrive to the scene to when we find them,” Paul Balance, Project Lifesaver’s Chief of Operations, said.

The non-profit started in Chesapeake, 21 years ago. Its goal is to find missing children faster. It started out helping to locate missing people with Alzheimer’s.

It has been a challenge making themselves known, Ballance said, as parents tend to react surprised when they find out about the program.

"It takes, sometimes, an incident of someone missing before folks start researching, and finding out, hey there is a place,” Ballance said, “There is something out there, it's Project Lifesaver."

"We have close to 3,600 rescues, successful since we've been in inception 21 years,” Balance said.

There is a cost for the ankle monitor, which is determined by the local law enforcement agency operating the program.

The price is why organizations such as the Eliza Hope Foundation tell us they're looking for ways to help families offset the cost.

To find your local law enforcement agency participating in the program and for more information on Project Lifesaver, click here to access the organization's website.