Neighbors, strangers unite in search for autistic boy


November 10, 1995|By DAN RODRICKS

Tuesday night, just when most of us were settling down for prime time, or putting the kids to bed, or maybe even reading or (in my case) falling asleep on the couch, Tom and Leslie Bowyer were in a panic. Their 7-year-old son, Stuart, was missing from his house on Bryn Mawr Road in North Baltimore.

Stuart is autistic, which means he suffers from one of medical science's most perplexing conditions, a mental state noted for, among other things, a complete disregard of dangers. Stuart has a talent for unlocking doors and a tendency to flee. He likes to run. In the past, whenever he ran off, he always ended up at the same neighbor's house, about six doors away.

Not so Tuesday night.

It was about 7:45 p.m. when the Bowyers realized what had happened: Stuart had wandered off again -- he slipped through an open door and out the garage -- and had not arrived at his usual destination. Leslie Bowyer (pronounced Boyer) dialed 911. She and her husband alerted neighbors. The police didn't come right away. But the neighbors went into action.

"There must have been 30 of them out there, at least 30," says Leslie Bowyer. "Adults and kids with flashlights, all searching for Stuart." It was a remarkable sight, a neighborhood coming together like that.

Leslie Bowyer called the police a second time, and a second time no one responded. But she was too busy worrying about her son to get angry. Finally, about 50 minutes into this drama, some good news: Lost boy found. Northwest Ice Rink. Mount Washington.

Stuart had been discovered, barefoot, in the middle of traffic under the Kelly Avenue Bridge -- by my calculations, a half-mile from his home. A couple in a car had stopped and picked him up. Because of his autism, Stuart could not tell them much. The couple figured he had wandered away from the ice rink and decided to take him there. Police were alerted. By the time Leslie Bowyer made her third call to 911 for "lost boy," a call for "found boy" had come in from the ice rink.

"And the police just put the two together and brought Stuart home," Leslie Bowyer says. "We want to thank all our neighbors who helped look for Stuart, and the wonderful and anonymous couple who found him and called police; the police wouldn't tell us their names. . . . And we've called a locksmith to put another lock on our door."

Jeers and sneers

John G. Baublitz Jr., a TJI reader, wrote ridiculing responses to two recent columns, providing superb examples of modern American cynicism. Up for it?

One column told of a retired 58-year-old police sergeant who saw three young, black men talking in an athletic club, assumed they were conspiring to commit a crime, eavesdropped, realized they weren't, then realized his judgment had been impaired by racism. The sergeant's epiphany impressed a lot of readers. But not Johnny Baublitz, who replied: "I suppose the nuts who bombed the World Trade Center would continue to talk about their plans when a stranger came within earshot."

The other column on which Johnny B. commented was last Friday's, the story of Jeanne Cole, her efforts to bring casseroles from her Catholic parish in northern Baltimore County to Our Daily Bread, and her willingness to keep a commitment to the poor even after her car window was smashed in downtown Baltimore. Here's more of Baublitz's sarcasm:

"Why don't [Cole] and other casserole-makers start a drive to have some low-cost housing projects built [in Parkton]? Just think of the advantages this would have. There wouldn't be any necessity to drive 30 miles to deliver casseroles. They could merely invite their neighbors to their homes for dinner. Just think, no more broken car windows, no more insurance adjusters, no more reports to be written by the police department. . ."

Yeah, yeah. I think we get the point. Here's mine: There are two kinds of people in this world -- those who write letters to newspapers, those who make casseroles.

Under a spell

Dan Quayle must be working for Safeway now. TJI reader George Lucas notes that a sign in the deli department of the Jacksonville store declares "potatoe salad" for sale.

NFL game shows

It is, indeed, obnoxious -- all the money spent by municipal and state governments to keep or court National Football League teams and the corporate skybox crowd. Here's an idea: Give all the teams in the NFL a home base in Las Vegas. Let's have them play -- at a rate of two games per day, seven days a week -- in huge television studios, with vacationers and bettors as the studio audience. The people back home can do what most of them do anyway -- watch on TV and cheer for their team, maybe phone in their bets. Sure would save a lot of bucks on stadiums.

Staying grounded

Check out the last big cabbage patch on Falls Road, north of Padonia in Baltimore County, where some dirt farmer keeps the faith, surrounded by suburban sprawl.

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