Quick thinking by local mom helps find missing Hyattsville boy with autism

A 14-year-old boy with autism who went missing after he left his home in Hyattsville, Maryland, has been found safe thanks to a woman whose son also has autism.

Sandra Juarez was walking into the gym with her son in Northwest D.C. when she saw the missing boy, Adrien Pleas, walking out of a Target. Juarez said she had seen the missing persons reports online earlier Monday, and recognized Pleas by the red shirt he was wearing.

Juarez made the quick decision to go after Pleas, and tried to talk to him.

“I said ‘Hi, how are you? Can I help you? Are you lost?’ and he said ‘Hi,’ and I just knew instantly that this was the same young man,” Juarez told WTOP. “The communication skills weren’t there, the eye contact wasn’t there.”

She asked the building security guard to call police as Pleas fled down the street. Juarez and her son also walked down the street, attempted to find the boy.

“I didn’t see him, but my gut instinct told me to continue walking and as soon as I crossed the street [and] the additional block, I saw the poor baby sitting down on the curb just eating his chips,” Juarez said.

Juarez approached him calmly, she said, and talked with him about the DVD he was carrying. She had 911 on the phone and eventually flagged down the police.

However, Juarez said she didn’t feel comfortable leaving Pleas alone with the officers. Instead, she took him to a nearby 7-Eleven, where she “bought him everything he could pick up,” Juarez said.

Juarez, her son and Pleas stayed inside the 7-Eleven eating snacks and playing on her phone until Pleas’ mom arrived.

“Every autistic child is different,” Juarez said. “They relate to different things and in that quick moment “don’t be afraid. they’re not monsters.”

As the mother of a child with autism, Juarez had some advice for anyone who may find themselves in a similar situation:

“Try talk to them, be patient if they are nonverbal, try to communicate with them in other ways,” Juarez said. “My advice is just don’t turn a cheek. try to do something, try to improvise. You could make a difference.”

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Julie Gallagher

Julie Gallagher is a freelance digital writer and editor for WTOP.com. She previously covered the 2020 election with CNN and has bylines in The Lily, WIRED, NBC Washington, The Baltimore Sun, Washington City Paper and more.

Laura Spitalniak

Laura Spitalniak joined the WTOP edit desk at the beginning of 2020. She previously worked at WAMU, ABC News and CBS News. She is a graduate of the Philip Merrill College of Journalism and the daughter of a librarian.

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