Experts give safety advice after massive search at Tyler State Park brought autistic teen home

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TYLER, Texas (KETK) – More than 1,000 encompass the Tyler State Park, and between the trees and trails, getting lost is possible.

“Typically it’s going to happen just a couple times a year, and it’s usually not to that extent. Maybe an hour at most before we’ve found that missing person,” said Sara DePaepe with the Tyler State Park.

However, that wasn’t the case when 17-year old Kevin Wilcklifffe who went missing for nearly seven hours Sunday night. After a massive overnight search, led by several first responders and dozens of volunteers, Kevin was found and is safely home.

Part of the reason he was found so quickly, is because of the quick response of the park and law enforcement teams.

“We have staff that know these trails like the back of their hand and they’ve been here a long time, so typically we can predict almost where people are going to go, ” said DePaepe.

After the park was notified of Kevin’s disappearance, they immediately contacted local law enforcement, and a command center was formed. That’s when more than 85 volunteers scoured the area looking for him.

After an extensive search, Kevin was found less than 10 minutes away from where he went missing.

Experts say when trying to find a missing person, time can be critical, especially when they have a medical condition like Kevin who has Autism.

“About 50 percent of individuals with Autism might be affected with a high-risk behavior such as wondering,” said Rachel Massey, Program Manager with the Andrews Center in Tyler.

Rachel Massey works with Children on the spectrum every day and says straying away is very common.

“We see it quite a bit, even a parent whose very on top of their child, very secure with them, that risks still exist,” said Massey.

According to the National Autism Association, 49% of people with Autism often wander away, but experts with Andrew’s Center points to devices that can help bring that number down.

“I always tell families to look into different GPS trackers, and there are different versions of it, there are some that go on the wrist on the shoes because if you have a child that’s sensitive they may not wear it all the time,” explained Massey.

Every person with Autism is different and unique, but both law enforcement and the community are happy prayers were answered that Kevin was safely found and able to return home to his family.

Copyright 2020 Nexstar Broadcasting, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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