Missing autistic boy, six, stumbles into California homeless camp

Reuters News
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Posted: Sep 08, 2014 3:46 PM

(Reuters) - A 6-year-old autistic boy who apparently wandered away from his Northern California home over the weekend has been reunited with his family after stumbling into a homeless encampment miles away, where he was taken in by people staying there, police say.

Sergio Zapata, who is non-verbal, was reported missing from his home in San Jose on Saturday morning, possibly wearing only a diaper, prompting a frantic search by local authorities who asked the public for help.

Zapata was found early on Sunday after a man said the boy had walked into the homeless camp, where inhabitants provided him with food and shelter until authorities arrived, the San Jose Police Department said in a written statement.

He was taken to a local hospital as a precaution before being reunited with his family but no foul play was suspected in his disappearance, San Jose police said.

"I popped out of my tent and I saw a naked person. At first I thought it was an alien, like ET," Jose Salmeron, who found the boy in the encampment, told the San Jose Mercury News in an interview.

"I shined my flashlight at him and when I looked closer it was a little boy," Salmeron told the newspaper.

According to the Mercury News the camp is some three miles by road from Zapata's home but it was not clear how he came to be there.

Salmeron told the newspaper that he gave the boy a blanket as well as some food and water.

"We're not heroes," Salmeron said in the interview. "It was the only right thing to do. When you see a helpless kid like that, you are supposed to do the right thing and just call the cops right away. Thank God he didn't get hit by a train, or fall into the water."

(Reporting by Dan Whitcomb in Los Angeles; Editing by Eric Beech)