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After tragic death of 6-year-old with autism, advice on wandering, elopement

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Posted at 9:31 PM, Jun 21, 2024

DUNDALK, Md. — A family in Baltimore County is mourning the loss of their six-year-old son. Marcel Traore lived with autism and was non-verbal.

Traore went missing Friday morning, and was found in Lynch Cove in Dundalk. He was later pronounced dead.

READ MORE: Missing 6-year-old boy with autism dies after being pulled from Lynch Cove

"It just breaks my heart," said Shelly McLaughlin, program director for Pathfinders for Autism, a Hunt Valley-based autism resource center.

McLaughlin's work includes consulting police departments and other businesses on how best to communicate with those living with a developmental disability.

"Sadly, so many families do experience this, because when it comes to individuals with autism that wander or elope, and by elope, I mean just taking off, 71 percent of the deaths that occur are due to drowning," McLaughlin explained.

Police say Traore went missing around 3 a.m. Friday and was reunited with his family. Then, a few hours later, he went missing again. First responders found him in the water later that morning, and doctors at a local hospital pronounced him dead.

For parents, or any adult responsible for a child with autism, McLaughlin says the first thing to do if they're missing: call 911 and don't be afraid of it.

"As parents - and this is what I used to do - we think 'I'm gonna go look myself. I know the different places where they go, I have a good idea….'" McLauhglin said. "But while we're out looking, the search radius goes from this to this. So, I beg every parent, the second you realize your child is missing, call 911 because no agency will ever be upset if you call back and say, 'it's ok, we found him.'"

Second, McLaughlin says - take swimming lessons. Treading water, doggy paddle - they can be life-preserving.

"If your child has elopement behavior, it's really critical that everyone in the school knows that. Anybody that could possibly come into contact with your child," McLauhglin added.

McLaughlin says it also helps to take a photo of your child every morning - just in case.

For parents - Pathfinders puts together a safety kit with helpful documents, including elopement alert forms, caregiver checklists, and resources to limit the chance a child is lost.

Pathfinders' Safety Kits can be found by clicking here.

The organization's website offers more resources, including a webinar titled 'When They Wander or Run Away,' resources and strategies for Wandering and Elopement,
and more safety resources.