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.