An extensive search for 5-year-old Jayliel Vega Batista who vanished from a relative’s home during a New Year’s Eve party came to a sad end on Saturday. First responders located his lifeless body two days after he disappeared in a canal.
According to the Allendale Police Department, Batista who is autistic, wandered away around 10:30 p.m. on December 31st. Police say he was not wearing any shoes or a coat. The little boy had reportedly been playing with a toy at the party when he “left out of nowhere,” his 16-year-old sister, Tayritza Molina, told a local media outlet.
Following Batista’s disappearance, police used bloodhounds to track the boy’s scent. Two helicopters — one with night-vision capabilities — were deployed in the early morning hours on Friday as officers went door to door talking to neighbors. Exactly 48 minutes after Batista vanished, police received a call from a homeowner who reportedly saw the child run into some nearby woods.
Challenges with the Search
During the two-day search, first responders were up against multiple obstacles—not including time, of course. According to authorities, Batista was afraid of people and likely to run from strangers, making the search for him even more challenging.
Search crews also battled the freezing weather. The temperature in Allentown, in eastern Pennsylvania, on Friday was in the 30s, with the wind chill at times making it feel as much as 10 degrees cooler.
A Tragic End
Despite the challengers first responders faced, they never stopped searching. Nearly 36 hours after the search first began with more than 100 police, fire and rescue workers—bloodhounds eventually led authorities to an area known as Canal Park. There, the boy’s tablet was found at the water’s edge. Eight feet from the shore, a dive team then discovered Batista’s body.
Two days after recovering his body, an autopsy was performed. At this time, the coroner has declined to rule on the manner or cause of death pending the completion of the investigation and forensic testing. He did note that there was no injury to the child.
What the Community Did Right
While this is certainly not the ending the community had hoped for, they can rest easy knowing they did everything in their power to locate the missing boy. This community acted quickly. We can’t stress enough how important that is. When a child goes missing, the first three hours are the most crucial in finding him or her alive.
According to the Killeen Daily News, the residents of Allentown, which is about 50 miles northwest of Philadelphia, joined the search for the boy without being asked. In fact, police had to ask some volunteers to stop because there were so many of them. Instead, they urged residents to search their properties, including parked cars and any places the boy might be hiding or seeking refuge from the cold.
“I am so incredibly impressed of how our city came together during this tragedy. Hundreds of people were out searching for this little boy in the dark on very cold days and nights. They searched, brought food for our officers, prayed for our searchers,” said Mayor Ed Pawlowski told The Morning Call.
Despite the community’s quick reaction to a tragic situation, unfortunately, sometimes our best is not always enough. To do nothing or delay doing nothing, though, should never be an option.
What we can Learn from this Tragedy
After Batista’s death, there is a now new urgency to make people aware of tracking technology. For example, Project Lifesaver International was founded to prevent tragedies like this one.
The nonprofit group works with public safety agencies to provide electronic tracking bracelets for vulnerable people at risk of wandering. It began as a way to track Alzheimer’s patients and later expanded to include people with autism.
To date– over 1,400 member agencies in 48 states participate in the program—police, sheriff, fire, public safety departments and other emergency responders. Whether a tracking bracelet would have made a difference in the little boy’s case, we will never know, however, it has helped thousands of families nationwide be reunited with their loved ones.
We encourage more agencies to participate in the program. We also believe that lawmakers should explore possible legislation that requires tracking devices for children with autism as well as adults battling Alzheimer’s or Dementia. At the end of the day, this piece of technology has the power to not only save lives but also spare families from incredible heartache.
Lauth Investigations and Thomas Lauth are experts in helping families locate missing loved ones.
While each missing persons case is different and results will vary, Lauth has been helping families for more than 20 years and boasts nearly an 85% success rate. If you or someone you know need assistance, call them today at 1.800.889.FIND or 317.951.1100.