Springtime in Central Park can be a magical place, but for a missing child with autism, it’s downright terrifying.
“In my mind — I froze,” mother Ruth Eustaquio said. “Central Park? Do you see how big Central Park is?”
Eustaquio’s 10-year-old son Yohan, who has autism, is safe at home Wednesday, with some new goodies from his new friends after Tuesday night’s all-out search.
The family had spent a perfect spring evening in Central Park, but as they packed up to go home, Yohan he took off.
“They were pretty frantic,” said officer Gary Li of the NYPD Central Park Precinct. “They were literally running around.”
It was already dark by the time Li and his partner got the missing child call.
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It’s a common one for the Central Park Precinct, but Yohan’s autism made this a true emergency.
“Central Park is a gigantic piece of real estate — 843 acres, seven different bodies of water and 58 miles of pedestrian path,” NYPD Central Park Capt. Bill Gallagher said. “And all of this occurs basically in the dark of night.”
Gallagher called in a helicopter and a K9 unit, and teams of police officers searched bodies of water in the dark with an increasing sense of dread.
“I’ve got kids, I’ve got a relative with autism,” Gallagher said. “We all really felt this really kinda made it personal.”
But it turned out, Yohan wasn’t even in the park. He hadn’t been attracted to the water, but to the shimmering lights so far away.
He wound up in an apartment building two miles away in a whole different precinct on the Upper West Side, where the doorman called police.
“He was standing right there; I was like where’s your parents — he didn’t respond,” doorman Benjamin Perez said. “I was like are you lost and I asked him to come inside, have a seat while I call the police and get him back to this family.”
NYPD body camera recorded the moment when Ruth Eustaquio rushed to the lobby and hugged her son.
It was a magical ending to a terrifying night.
“They found my kid! Thank you guys,” Eustaquio said.
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