FRANKLIN SQUARE, N.Y. (CBSNewYork) — This week’s nor’easter rattled nerves with its whipping wind and pounding rains, and in the middle of it an autistic teen wandered outside and got lost.
As CBS2’s Jennifer McLogan reported, it took 12 hours and a stranger with a big heart to get Joseph Barbella back after he walked out the front door of his Franklin Square home.
His parents’ backs were turned for a second, and the 16-year-old autistic youth became lost during the height of the nor’easter.
As wind blew and rain pounded the frightened teen found refuge in the backyard she of a stranger five blocks away.
“I acted on a whim. It was a hunch,” Michael Caputo said.
Caputo, a Hempstead town employee awoke to discover a frantic search had been launched 12 hours earlier for a missing autistic child. Caputo had recently screened a documentary about autism.
“Sometimes children with autism tend to find hiding places, and my shed looks like a clubhouse,” he said. “Just opened this up and this young man was lying here, and I didn’t want to startle him, didn’t want him to run away.”
Joseph was asleep — a golf bag and toys as a pillow.
Police arrived within minutes and alerted Joseph’s frantic parents.
“So filled with joy. Just wanting to run to the location. My son is with me all the time. We do everything together — a minute apart is tough,” John Barbella said.
Finding Joseph safe couldn’t have been better news for the Barbellas who have endured some hardships. Joseph’s mother is battling cancer, and undergoing chemotherapy.
“Very intense for us, my wife especially,” John said.
They were grateful moments for a hometown hero.
“His instincts were keen, his nature caring, and conscientious,” Hempstead Town Supervisor, Anthony Santino said, as he gave Caputo a key to the town.
“I am very flattered to be called a hero,” Caputo said. “I am just blessed. I was the final piece of the puzzle to get this boy home and safe.”
The true heroes he said were the volunteers, police, and other first responders who searched all night long.