2016-05-18 / Front Page

Autistic Boy, 4, Goes Missing From School Bus

By Liz Goff
The parents of a 4-year-old autistic boy are demanding answers from the Department of Education (DOE) to determine how their son wandered off, alone, after he was left unattended when his school bus broke down on May 9.

Luciana Gomez told police her husband received a phone call from the principal of the Positive Beginnings School in Middle Village on the afternoon of May 9. Principal Mindi Messenger told the boy’s father that a school bus transporting her son home had broken down just a few feet from the school – and the boy had wandered away while a bus matron was transferring the children to another bus, a law enforcement source said.

Gomez told police she wants to know how her son, who is high-functioning autistic but unable to communicate, was able to walk past the matron and disappear into a crowd of people on Metropolitan Avenue, and why it took so long for the school to call her husband.

An NYPD source said video surveillance shows the boy walking past the bus matron, stepping out of the bus and walking along Metropolitan Avenue. “The boy can be seen approaching two young children and their parents, and walking away behind them before disappearing from the camera,” the source said.

A school aide spotted the boy walking behind the family and asked if they knew him,” the source said. “When they said no, she brought him back to the school.”

Messenger walked the boy back to the bus and asked the driver if he was missing a student, the source said. The driver said he was wondering where the boy went.” The boy was placed on the bus and driven home, but his parents were not notified that he had disappeared until Messenger called his father later in the afternoon.

Gomez told police she is disgusted and angry. “She wanted to know what it will take to make schools safe for special needs students,” the source said. “She asked if it will take another Avonte Oquendo to wake up the system to protect these kids.”

Avonte Oquendo, 14, disappeared unnoticed from his special needs school in Long Island City in 2013. The autistic teen’s remains were found months later on a shoreline in eastern Queens.

Gomez is refusing to put her son on another school bus. “Family members are working around their schedules to help take the boy to school and bring him home,” the source said. “The mother has zero confidence in any bus company.”

Gomez said she and her husband are not seeking damages from the city or the bus company, but they want to see the driver and the matron punished for the way they handled the situation. “It shouldn’t take another tragedy to make the system wake up and keep our kids safe,” Gomez said.

Officials at Alina Services Corporation, the bus operator, did not immediately respond to calls for comment.

A DOE spokesperson said the agency is investigating the incident to determine how the boy was able to wander off unnoticed, and why the bus driver failed to immediately alert police and the school that he was missing.

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