Jayliel Vega Batista, the missing autistic boy from Allentown, Pennsylvania, was found dead close to the water’s edge of Lehigh Canal by a firefighter dive team yesterday, bringing an end to a frantic two-day search, according to the NY Daily News.
The 5-year-old was said to have wandered away from a New Year’s Eve party sometime around 10:30 p.m., wearing no coat or shoes in the blustery New York winter weather. His disappearance resulted in a massive search effort involving more than 100 police officers, firefighters, and rescue workers.
A tablet belonging to Jayliel was reported to have been found close to his body. Investigators believe that the autistic boy and the tablet likely drifted about 30 yards before coming to rest where they were found by firefighters, as reported by NBC.
“Preliminarily, this is being considered a tragic accident,” Keith Morris, chief of the Allentown police was quoted.
Scott Grim, the Lehigh County Coroner, reported that an autopsy will be performed on Monday. Chief Morris reportedly stated that Jayliel’s death is not considered suspicious and that foul play is not suspected, but that the circumstances leading to the body of the 5-year-old being found in the Lehigh Canal are still being investigated. The autopsy will likely shed light on the time and cause of the autistic boy’s death. Investigators are said to be interested in whether the Allentown boy died before or after his body entered the water.
This is so sad. R.I.P. Jayliel Vega Batista. The missing 5 year old Autistic boy was found in a canal. 🙁 pic.twitter.com/p4oVRjLUY4
— Nicki Is A Blessing (@KateBarbieDoll) January 2, 2016
Jaylie’s sister, 16-year-old Tayritza Molina, stated that her brother left the party Thursday evening “out of nowhere.”
“I loved my son,” Gilberto Vegas, the autistic boy’s father, was quoted. “He had no fear. He didn’t understand the dangers.” Vegas reportedly stated that he did not know why his son was near the water, and believed that Jayliel may not have been able to comprehend the danger it posed.
The search for the missing Allentown boy was said to have involved three helicopters, 11 different emergency rescue organizations, and 20 canine units.
Missing Jayliel Batista's body is found in canal after he vanished from party https://t.co/OoliCbmmOD
— Follow @JodyField (@JodyField) January 3, 2016
The National Center For Missing and Exploited Children states that “nearly half” of children with autism will wander away from a familiar environment and become lost.
“Children with autism often have an extremely high attraction to water,” the center writes on their website. The center recommends that those searching for missing autistic children first check rivers, lakes, ponds, and other bodies of water. The attraction that water holds for autistic children is not fully understood. The center states that those involved in the care of autist youth be aware of potential local water hazards that children could be attracted to.
Other favorites of autistic kids include machinery, heavy equipment, trains, fire trucks, traffic lights, bright lights, signs, and roads. Autistic children may “seek out” enclosed spaces or wander if presented with overwhelming situations.
Many Allentown residents were said to have volunteered to help search for the missing boy. Priscilla Reyes was among those who turned out to lend her time to the effort to find Jayliel. An Allentown funeral director was reported to have offered to provide services at no cost.
“He’s a 5-year-old. If it was my child I would want people to help,” Reyes was quoted.
There was reported to have been such a “glut” of volunteers ready to search for the missing Allentown boy that those gathered had begun to throw search dogs off of Jayliel’s scent, according to the Daily Mail. Not wanting to turn down the help of so many people, police were said to have asked local residents to conduct thorough regular searches of their own buildings and properties, including cars, should the autistic boy still be wandering.
Tragically, the efforts of the good Samaritans went unrewarded.
[Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images]