Missing child causes scare

Boy found in vacant home after search

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More than 50 people, two dog teams and a helicopter were used Thursday afternoon to search for a 5-year-old autistic boy reported missing in the Whistler neighborhood.

The boy, Jack English of Stagecoach, was found unharmed about 1 1/2 hours after he went missing. He was found inside a vacant house next door to the home he was reported missing from in the 3900 block of Whistler Road, Steamboat Springs police Capt. Joel Rae said. The boy was looking at photos when a sharp-eyed neighbor found him.

Emergency personnel used the Whistler Park parking lot as a base for their search efforts, with Routt County Search and Rescue bringing dog teams and ATVs. The Steamboat Springs police and fire departments, the Routt County Sheriff's Office and a helicopter also were called to the scene.

Minutes before English was found, the Steamboat Springs Police Department put out a reverse 911 call, which called more than 2,900 homes in a one-mile radius of the home. The call alerted residents about the missing child and requested help in the search.

Rae said one of the concerns was that English is known to like water, and the nearby Yampa River is dangerously high. No one suspicious was reported in the area, Rae said, but officials did not rule out abduction.

"We assumed the worst: The child had been abducted or fallen in the river. We had to cover all the bases," Rae said.

The boy's mother, Denise English, said she called everyone she knew to help in the search. People went door to door in the Whistler neighborhood asking residents to look in their homes.

The searchers combed Whistler Park, looked along the Yampa River down to the Holiday Inn and went as far as the ridge behind where Whistler Road dead ends and to Walton Creek Road.

At about 11:40 a.m., the boy was playing with home therapist Diane Schafer, 26, at her home on Whistler Road. The two were on the back deck when Schafer said she went inside for just "a second" to get water.

When she returned, a child gate was knocked over, and English was missing. Schafer quickly searched the area and called English's mother.

"It happened so fast," Schafer said.

Denise English said that her son has been known to take off running.

Being autistic, English doesn't talk or understand danger, his mother said. When he disappeared, he was not wearing shoes or socks.

The house next door has a 5-foot fence around the back yard, but the fence was unlocked. No one was home, so the search party initially did not go inside to look for English, Rae said.

Schafer's other next-door neighbor, Diane Salazar, said she noticed the search dogs were sniffing near the neighbor's fence. Salazar, who had looked for the boy near the river and along the ridge behind the house, was up on a hill looking into the home's back yard when she saw the boy walk into the yard and then back into the house. She went inside and found him looking at photos.

Denise and Darin English thanked everyone who looked for their son and were amazed by the speed of the search.

"I hope it doesn't happen again, but it is nice to know that they are there for us," Denise English said. "I am just so happy."

On Saturday, the Yampa Valley Autism Program is holding a fund-raiser at the Steamboat Gymnastic Cen--ter. Schafer said that after Thursday's incident, the group will be looking to purchase locater beacons for autistic children, who have a tendency to wander away. The fund-raiser, from 9 a.m. to noon, will offer tumbling, a bake sale and a clown. The suggested donation is $5 a child.

-- To reach Christine Metz call 871-4229

or e-mail cmetz@steamboatpilot.com

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