It was a rainy Sunday afternoon and the girls and I had just gotten home from church. Brandon was deployed in Iraq. Admittedly, I was distracted. To this day I’m not sure if Rhema followed me in from the garage and then went back out or if she never came in at all. All I know is that about 10 minutes went by before it hit me that something was very wrong with Rhema. I didn’t even stop to look for her in the house – I just flew out the door yelling her name.

We lived on a busy street at the time, and the road inclined before our house just enough so that a driver could not see what was on the other side.

When I got to the end of the driveway I could not see her. It was raining hard and three cars had pulled over to the side of the road. My heart pounded as I screamed her name. Then I saw her a little ways down the street in someone’s yard. A man, frantic, was holding her hand. When I got to them he began shouting, “She was in the middle of the street! I got out of my car… I didn’t know what to do! I was trying to find her home!”

All I could do was thank him profusely and apologize. Shaking, I grabbed my silent, soaking girl and ran home.

Not long after we were home, a police officer arrived at my door. Someone had called the police. This was not the first time the police had been involved when Rhema “disappeared.” I was questioned about the events, questioned about measures I had in place to keep my child safe.

I cannot even tell you all of the emotions that went through me. Suffice to say, I felt horrible – like life was spiraling out of control (it was), and I was losing my grip on everything.

Too many ways. Too many ways I could have lost her that day.


Nearly a year later my friend Jess invited me to speak with her friend Drew O’Brien, State Director for Senator John Kerry’s office. I shared a bit of our story with him and detailed some of the obstacles we’d encountered in trying to get an appropriate emergency locator device for Rhema. Drew promised to help.

Over the next many months letters and e-mails went back and forth. Our local police department was contacted as well as the CEO of Brickhouse Security, a distributor of electronic monitoring devices.

“Rhema is very physically active and extremely coordinated. She is also tremendously curious and has absolutely no sense of danger. This combination of traits has caused a number of terrifying incidents in which Rhema has gone missing.

Despite taking every possible precaution, including but not limited to specialized locks and alarm sensors on all doors, locked gates, fenced yards, etc., Rhema has wandered off on numerous occasions. Her longest elopement lasted over an hour. (She had made her way into another home and was only discovered after the confused homeowner returned from work and found Rhema playing in her toy room.)

While all incidents up to this point have ended in Rhema’s safe return, [we] are obviously gravely concerned for her ongoing safety. First, Rhema does not respond to her name being called. Second, she is incapable of offering any identification should someone find her. Third, she would be helpless to defend herself and would freely go off with anyone intent on abducting her.

Additionally, as it is for so many parents of children with autism, drowning is a very real fear. Rhema loves water, but does not understand its inherent dangers. She cannot swim well enough to stay afloat for long in a pool or at all in the tides of the ocean/open water. If she went missing near water, there would be a very limited time to find her.”

These efforts resulted in the coming together of many people to help our family. Not only did Mr. Morris of BrickHouse Security supply Rhema with a security device, he generously offered to cover the costs of all the service fees associated with the 24-7 monitoring through the EM Finder system. (!)

Thank you Senator John F. Kerry, Drew O’Brien and Ashley O’Neill for your dedication to the autism community. Thank you for putting all of these pieces together to help us keep our precious girl safe.

Thank you Mr. Todd Morris of BrickHouse Security for your time, effort and generosity.

Thank you Jim Nalley and Chris Buehler, founders of EmFinders, for providing the EmSeeQ device and for working with us and the local police department so extensively.

Thank you Chief Mark Ray and Captain Negrotti for your willingness to help and for making the safety of our children a priority.

Thank you Sergeant McCarthy, Officer Desmond and Officer Deroberts for taking the time to do a thorough test run with us.

Thank you Jess for being more than just beautiful words on a screen. Thank you for caring so deeply for our family, for connecting us with the right people, for writing letters. Thank you for crying tears of joy when this all came together. You are an amazing friend.

At every turn we have been met with kindness and compassion – even the jeweler who patiently fitted her device. When I think about the hopelessness of that rainy Sunday afternoon I am overwhelmed at how God has blessed us through others and given us such comfort and peace of mind.

Today Rhema wore her bracelet for the first time. (She doesn’t like it, of course, but she’ll get used it!)

Our hearts rest easier today, and we are just grateful.

61 thoughts on “Safer

  1. My heart soared when I saw the picture! Hurray for the wonderful people who came together to keep your amazing girl safe. I am so happy that you have this piece of mind now.

    • Im same way with you ! my daughter is autism image Deaf mother of autism daughter so We had our adventures so Shes doing very well so I keep my eye very close to her since I’m Deaf so Its not very easier for me so ASL sign language does help communicate in some situations like that so I know how u feel when u find your kid wandering off like that!! so I would love to have the security device on my kid so but now Shes very attracted to me so She will find me anyway xoxo give my love to her shes very strong girl I know she will be fine !!

  2. Oh, how terrifying! I am rapt for you finally being able to get that device – what a relief! And how good is our God watching over her so faithfully all this time 🙂

  3. I’m so happy for you that it worked out for you to get this precaution. What a blessing all the people involved to make it happen. How is it secured on her arm so it doesn’t come off?

    • Eliana, there are two little buttons you have to push in while sliding them forward. That releases a special clasp that allows you to open the bracelet. It takes (at least) two hands. Rhema’s tried shaking it, biting it… but there’s no way in the world she’s getting the thing off!

      • oh okay that’s good. I figured there was something to make it difficult. I know how determined kiddos can be.

  4. The photo of Rhema with the bracelet made me breathe easier. I can only imagine how you and Brandon feel! Sending love and so many prayers that this precaution NEVER has to be actively used. xo

  5. Jeniel, what a beautiful example of a community coming together. I am so happy for you and so grateful that Rhema has such an extended family looking out for her. She is blessed.

  6. Very happy for you and Rhema! I can’t imagine how difficult it must be with your husband deployed. Maybe now you can have a bit more peace.

  7. Praise the Lord for his goodness, mercy, kindness and for a beautiful bracelet! So thankful for his provision for you and your family and for always keeping his angels around Rhema!

  8. THIS makes me feel SO good that so many are willing to pull together and offer a solution that provides some peace of mind for you, Jeneil.

    I prayed very hard that this would come to be for you.

    And Jess – WOW, girlfriend. What a gift that you would set out to make this a reality for their family and bring everyone together.

    Love you all so much. ‘Community’ doesn’t even begin to describe…


    After yesterday’s breakout, I think we are next in exploring this kind of security for RM.

  9. God bless them!!
    But why should this be so hard? What about the rest of the families who don’t have the connections, perseverance, and supernatural intervention to make this happen?
    I am super happy for you guys and Rhema! I have been wondering when you would be able to get her Lo-jacked!! hehee (you know i love you, rhema!)
    But it does make me sad too for everyone who doesn’t have it and probably won’t be able to get it.

  10. I am overjoyed that all of the pieces came together to get this incredible “piece of mind” saving device for Rhema. As Niksmom said, my most profound hope is that it will never need to be utilized. And as Mrs. Sargeant Major said, community doesn’t even begin to describe. You are surrounded by amazing folks. XOXO

  11. I saw the image on Jess’ blog and just knew what it was – I am so happy for you and your family! What an amazing, hopeful story. Peace of mind is an amazing gift, and I am so glad that you guys have a little bit more of it right now!

  12. Pingback: a list of thank you’s – part two « a diary of a mom

  13. I am so happy that you were able to get this. May you never ever need to use it. I bet you were able to actually shut your eyes and sleep for the first time. While you are thanking all those incredible souls who made this possible, I want to thank you! And your husband and all the other brave men and women and their families who risk everything so that we can live in a country where miracles like this do happen! Granted not as often as they should but it is a beginning!

  14. I can relate to this story as my daughter Angelia was and still is a wanderer, fortunately she has calmed down a bit however in 2008 she got out of the house numerous times which included 4 swims across the canal that we lived on, made it across safely every time (butt naked), several months after the 4th swim, I found an Autistic 5 year old little girl drowned in a neighborhood canal. She did not know how to swim, we knew her and her family. We were introducted to Project Lifesaver, also a bracelet tracking device however Angelia would find a way to cut the bracelet off of her wrist. I have lived in fear for so long, sleeping in her bed to make sure she is safe. These special children of ours are not only fast however very, very smart. I thank God every day for my blessings. I am so glad that you receive miracles such as we have!!

  15. So glad to hear you found a way to keep her safe!

    If she fusses with the device too much, you could always put it on her ankle. My daughter has had a project lifesaver location device that we placed on her ankle,and it doesn’t bother her at all.

  16. This is such an amazing story. I am so happy to hear that you have gotten to the point of finally getting some kind of closer in knowing that your daughter can be safe, and found, if need be!!! I also have an Autistic son who is now 10 years old and i would have to say, word for word, what u have written here, is my son to the tee. We have had a few times of being scared to death, running up and down the street, screaming his name, but also knowing that he will not respond. He has no fear and no concept of danger. I have been searching the internet, trying to find some kind of security devise for him, and have found nothing 😦 Losing him is my ABSOLUTE WORST FEAR!!! I cannot live without him!!! We do have other children, but they do understand the concept of danger and know not to go too far without us, and know names and numbers they need to know in case of an emergency, but not Gavin, he has no clue.If there is any information on this that u can give me, i would GREATLY appreciate it, more than u know!!!

  17. I have a 6yr old daughter Autumn that was diagnose with ASD at 4 and alot of the characteristics that Rhema has Autumn has as well. My husband and I have been greatly concern for her safety because she does not speak/answer on command..All thou we have not experienced wondering to the extent as Rhema we would feel that Autumn would be alot SAFER with the monitoring device..If at all possible would u please advise us on how we can obtain one of these devices it would be very much appreciated…Thank You and God Bless!

  18. My son is the EXACT SAME WAY! I’m so glad you got something to help. I wish we could do the same. I fear one day we are going to lose our little boy. He’s my only child.. I worry so much. I wish there was something we could do to require these in ALL states for all children with Autism.

  19. Wow….very scary! We understand what you are going through. Our son is now 14. He was our escape artist, our child that would walk into the middle of traffic to play in a puddle, our child that went missing at school (he was found at a VERY busy 4 way intersection entering traffic), our child who went biking with his Scout pack and did not return with the Scout pack, etc…. I could go on and on!!
    When Joey was little the security devices did not exist. I am hoping this works for you so you can relax a little.
    My husband is Navy so he missed alot of the excitement. I understand the deployed overwhelmed feeling.
    Your are a great mother, you are doing what is best for her and striving for more!!
    Take care,

  20. I read your story and felt like I was right there with you. My son has autism and we have encountered similar situations and feelings. I know God has His Angels around Deuce, but the stress on my husband and me and his sister is killing us. Where and how can I obtain one of these devices.

    We were just talking about getting a GPS for Deuce as we had a big scare this past weekend.

  21. I read your story and cried my eyes out. My 13 year son has autism and sounds much like your daughter. He will wander away from home if not watched closely. He has no sense of fear, and no clear way to communicate. I am so happy for you and your family that were able to get your daughter a tracking device. Reading your story made me realize that I need to figure out how to get one of these devices for my son. Thank you so much for sharing your story!

  22. The same thing happened to my son when he was about 3 years old. We were at a neighborhood picnic, in a fenced-in backyard, with two locked gates. Somehow he got one of the gates open, or slipped out when someone opened one, and my husband thought I was watching him, and I thought my husband was watching him. The panic in my heart was the worst feeling I have ever experienced in my LIFE. We ran all over the neighborhood looking for him; neighbors banded together and got in their cars scouring the local streets. Luckily, two ladies were out walking together (almost 1/2 mile from our home) and saw him running down the middle of the street. They called to him (didn’t know who he was) and he didn’t respond, so they went and took his hands and turned around, walking him back in the direction he came from. Just then my panicked husband saw the threesome and the day was saved. I have never been so terrified, nor felt such desperation, in my life. This was around 1997 and I don’t think they had such devices then. My son is now 17 and is thriving, driving, looking for a job, and a junior in HS. I will, however, never forget that day as long as I live.

  23. Thanks for posting this, as a mom of an autistic girl also, there’s something undescribable about hearing similar stories, reading there’s at least one other parent out there that doesn’t breathe as easy and who’s eyes rarely rest when it comes to their child. Also that there are good days that make it easier. Great post.

  24. There is a lovely pond near our house, which my dear granddaughter has never seen – precisely because she loves water so much. She has autism, and like so many other children in this community, she is profoundly drawn to water, is very mobile and has no concept of danger. It makes me sad to limit her experience of her community, but I fear that if she knew that pond existed, it would only be a matter of time before she would find a momentary lapse in our vigilance and slip away, perhaps forever. The need for affordable locator devices and services in our community is absolutely huge. Thanks to all who recognized that and are helping keep one little girl safe.

  25. Im so glad you were able to get the help you needed. I wanted to tell you about a foundation out of Connecticut that raises assistance dogs for kids with autism, The Northstar Foundation. The dogs can be trained to stay with the kids and recieve full public access including but not limited to school ect. We have a pup from the foundation and he is the most amazing dog Ive ever seen. The dogs are trained specifically to the childs needs including finding the child if it wanders off. I have an autistic child as well so I completely understand how it feels. I know the dogs are placed thru out the country as well. Best of luck to you on your journey with your very special little girl!!

  26. Try it on her ankle and she will notice it less. Is she right handed? It is on her little right wrist so it is right in her field of vison for noticing it all the time. My daughter wore this for a few years when it was needed and it was such peace of mind. We put it on her ankle and could even pull her sock up around it when needed. She got hers through Project Lifesaver. We used to have to pay $20 a month for a battery change and the local police department came to our house to change the battery. She is 8 1/2 now and we were happy to relinquish it to another needy family. If families are in need of such a device, they should check with their local police department.


  27. The exact same senario happened to me when my 3 y.o daughter c/ autism dissapeared, except I had the front door dead-bolted (she has little finger dexterity and can’t unlock it) and had gates up blocking the 2 entrances to the kitchen with the back door off the kitchen open a crack for fresh air. She was happily sitting on the couch watching Yo Gabba Gabba (she just developed an interest in television) I had my back to one entrance of the kitchen while I stood at the sink washing dishes in front of the other kitchen entrance. I looked at her, she was happy, then continued washing for about 5 min. Then I looked over to the couch again, saw her happily sitting there still, so I continued washing dishes for a few more minutes. Then the door bell rang. I dried my hands, walked over, and UNLOCKED the deadbolt and opened the door to a woman panting and clutching her chest asking “Is that your daughter!?” as she pointed to the sidwalk at the bottom of the stairs where another complete stranger had my Josie by the hand and was leading her away from the street. Apparently one women had been driving down the street in one direction, and the other woman was coming from the other direction, and both had to slam on their brakes and stop traffic when Josie stepped off the sidwalk from in between two parked cars suddenly into the street. They pulled over their GIANT SUV’s (what’s wrong with everyone and their huge busses they drive everywhere they go?) I scooped Josie up, still in a shocked stupor. Their were several neighbors outside watching and a line of stopped traffic in either direction. The woman who had been holding Josie’s hand demanded several times “Is this the first time this has happened? you need to lock your door!” I still have not figured out how she got out. I had to un-deadbolt the front door to get out when they rang the bell, so she must have climbed over the gate to the kitchen and snuck behind my back out the back door, out the back portch, down the stairs, and around the yard by herself. All things I didn’t think she could do since she is has delayed gross motor skills. I’m surprised the police didn’t show up to my door that day. I felt very neglegent. So she had not gone through that door.

  28. Thank God for the people who have a sencible heart and are touch to support this matter i pray to God and DECLARE that you will be blessed all the way and as for you mom God has blessed you with a special gift these kids are givin to special persons we also have a grand aughter with the same condition and people don’t know howto feel when u have a child like that.Lots of prayer goes out to all the special parents

  29. If you guys haven’t yet, it would be wise to place a fake test-call. When he’s home, have your husband drive with her in his car to about 2 blocks away, and then call the emergency tracking system (you might want to notify the police you’re doing this, or work with them on it) and see how well they can actually find her and how fast. The thing is, GPS (assuming that’s the system being used in the device on her wrist) is HORRIBLE at pinpointing ANYTHING. It can tell you “She’s within a region about the size of a football field.” But it can’t give the exact location. Completely useless. Don’t wait until it’s too late and find out the hard way that this doesn’t really work well enough to be relied on like that.

  30. I know how you feel my little brother has autism and has wondered off several times and once where he was gone for 5 hours involving the police and everything. My little brother recently got lost again and drowned in a near by pool. He loved water so very much as well. I wish I had read this article earlier and Im so very happy that you still have her. God Bless.

  31. this automatically reminded me of my brother Troy Im so glad to see that so many people came together to keep your little girl safe my prayers go out for you guys that she continues to stay safe!

  32. Pingback: Bolt | One Girl Circus

  33. Pingback: Grace to help us « Autism In a Word

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