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search and rescue, nonverbal teen lost, project lifeline

Rescue teams near Los Angeles search for a lost teen.

A 16-year-old developmentally disabled teen went on a hike with his mother and sister in the mountains near Los Angeles on the morning of Sunday, April 3 when he ran off into the trees and disappeared. The family called the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s department for help, but after six hours they still couldn’t find him.

The situation was stressful because the teen is nonverbal and couldn’t call out for help or reveal his location. His family had no idea whether he was injured or how far he had gone into the forest.

The Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department brought together the Montrose Search and Rescue Team, Glendale and Burbank police, the Altadena Mountain Rescue Team and the Sierra Madre Search and Rescue Team to help in the search. They didn’t have much to go on but the boy's mother told Montrose Search and Rescue Deputy Steve Goldsworthy that he had an affection for rocks. “He will go out of his way to kick a rock, pick up a rock, throw a rock," Goldsworthy said.

“Several hours into the search, a Montrose team member heard what sounded like the clinking of rocks together,” the Montrose Search and Rescue Team wrote on Facebook. “Remembering that the missing person had an interest in playing with rocks, he investigated further. He also directed the Burbank PD airship to look down the canyon.”


“I could hear the rocks hit, and a slight echo. I could hear that three different times,” Goldsworthy said.

The search and rescue team found the boy 400 feet over the side of a fire road.

“Our team member went down the mountainside and made contact with the missing person,” the search and rescue team said. The wonderful thing was that the team knew he had developmental issues and approached him with care.

“Recognizing the sensitivity of the situation, he worked to build a rapport with the teenager. After gaining the trust of the missing person, he led him up the mountain to safety. Once at the top, he was treated by paramedics and released to his family,” the search and rescue team wrote.

When they first encountered the boy he was sitting beneath an oak tree.

After the rescuers gained the boy's trust, they were able to walk him up the hill, have him looked over by paramedics and reunite him with his family. “Our Department was thrilled this incident had a happy ending,” the Sheriff’s department wrote.

The Montrose Search and Rescue Team used the situation to promote a program that provides peace of mind for people with developmental disabilities and those who care for them. “If you have a loved one who suffers from Alzheimer’s disease, Dementia, Autism, or other cognitive disorders, consider applying for Project Lifesaver,” the team wrote on Facebook.

People enrolled in Project Lifesaver wear a small transmitter on their wrist or ankle that emits an individualized frequency signal. If they go missing, the caregiver notifies their local Project Lifesaver agency, and a trained emergency team responds to the wanderer’s area.

The program is a nonprofit that combines tracking technology that, in partnership with local police, fire and rescue teams, can quickly locate people who have wandered from their homes and families.

Learn more about Project Lifesaver here.

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