A case of a missing person escalated in 2013 when local authorities realized that the 11-year-old, Anthony Kuznia, had autism.
Chief Mike Hedlund, along with the East Grand Forks Police Department, assisted the Polk County Sheriff Department with an extensive search to find the young boy, who was said to have a tendency of wandering off. In a saddening turn of events, Kuznia’s body was found in the Red River.
Chelle LeMier, president of the Red River Valley Asperger-Autism Network, recalls how her son, Bob, used to wander. She specifically describes how she once found her son playing outside in the snow in nothing but a T-shirt and a diaper.
Wandering is not uncommon with individuals with developmental disabilities. In fact, according to Autism Speaks, nearly half of the percentage of those with disabilities will end up wandering away from their surroundings some point in their lifetime and often end up in dangerous situations where they are left helpless.
This fact served as the incentive for the police department to begin working with Project Lifesaver. Starting in 2014, a project went underway to provide radio transmitters that can be worn by at-risk individuals. At that point, authorities can use a locator system that points responders in their direction.
The technology is proven to be effective. For example, Jake Thompson, the project’s coordinator, said that an 83-year-old man reported wandering in the fall of 2017 was found within seven minutes by simply using the device.
Now, local legislators are looking to prepare a bill that would ultimately help authorities around the nation find vulnerable people such as those with autism.
Democratic Sen. Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota has recently been using her time in office to highlight how crucial she finds this technology to be.
Sen. Chuck Grassley of Iowa has introduced the Kevin and Avonte’s Law, which passed in the Senate and will soon be debated in the House.
If this bill were to pass, it would ultimately lead to numerous benefits for those with autism. The bill would reauthorize the now-expired Missing Alzheimer’s Disease Patient Alert Program and would offer up to $2 million in grants to support those with Alzheimer’s, dementia and autism.
In a recent visit to the Moorhead Law Enforcement Center, Klobuchar described the situation by saying, “We’ve had a number of cases where law enforcement, despite sending hundreds of people out, have not been able to find a senior or have not been able to find a kid.”
Moorhead Police Chief David Ebinger described the technology as invaluable.
GPS systems are one example of a tracking device that has already been widely discussed as being a valuable tool for this situation, but admittedly not everyone is able to afford them. In order to get a client set up with Project Lifesaver, it would cost around $300 upfront and about $40 a year after that.
The bill would be valuable in providing those who may not be able to afford these tools with everything that they need in order to essentially halt a dangerous scenario involving wandering from happening.