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Amber Alert system needed for vulnerable children who go missing, online petitions say

A day after an 11-year-old Lindsay, Ont., boy with autism was found dead in an Ontario river, petitions are circulating online that call on the province to create an Amber Alert system for vulnerable children who have gone missing.

Petitions launched after Draven Graham, 11, found dead in Scugog River in Lindsay, Ont.

Draven Graham, 11, was found dead in the Scugog River at about 3:30 p.m. Monday in Lindsay, Ont., after going missing from his home about 24 hours earlier. (Kawartha Lakes Police/Twitter)

A day after an 11-year-old Lindsay, Ont., boy with autism was found dead in an Ontario river, petitions are circulating online that call on the province to create an Amber Alert system for vulnerable children who have gone missing.

Suzi Guarrasi, an Ajax mother of a boy who has autism and is non-verbal, started a petition on change.org on Monday that asks the Ontario government and Ontario Provincial Police (OPP) to review their policies and procedures on emergency alerts. 

Guarrasi said if an alert had gone out immediately, there is a greater chance that the life of Draven Graham, the Lindsay boy, could have been saved. Her petition has garnered more than 3,460 signatures as of Tuesday at 9 p.m.

"It's just our worst nightmare," Guarrasi said on Tuesday. 

"It's anybody's worst nightmare to lose their child, but for our families and our community, it is the absolutely most gut-wrenching thing, especially when your child is developmentally delayed and is non-verbal and can't say, 'I'm here, help me.'"

Draven was found dead in the Scugog River at about 3:30 p.m. Monday in Lindsay after going missing from his home about 24 hours earlier. Kawartha Lakes Police Service said Draven was not wearing shoes when he left home at about 3 p.m. on Sunday. He was last seen in the area of Rivera Park in Lindsay half an hour later.

Kawartha Lakes Police said they searched on foot for Draven with the help of the OPP canine unit, the Peterborough Police canine unit and volunteer firefighters. The OPP used a boat, drone and helicopter to search for the boy. Police said the search went throughout Sunday night.

Police had described Draven as having limited verbal skills and a sensory irritation to touch. They said he was not likely to come out if called by name and that he liked to hide. An OPP underwater search and recovery team recovered his body. Police had found his clothes before they found his body. No foul play is suspected.

The body of Draven Graham was found by an Ontario Provincial Police underwater search and recovery team in the Scugog River Monday around 3:30 p.m (Michael Charles Cole/CBC)

Guarrasi said she and her husband drove from Ajax to Lindsay on Sunday night to help in the search.

"I thought, this poor sweet child, he needs us, and that's why we went there and we tried to look for him," she said.

Guarrasi said her son, Frankie, 9, also has autism and is non-verbal. She said if he were lost, every minute would be crucial.

"I know that if my son was missing I would want every single person out there immediately," she said.

"Somebody could have just been walking in the park at that exact moment when Draven was there and thought of him and said, oh my god, this is an 11-year-old child walking by."

Mom of girl with autism calls for 'Draven Alert'

Katrina Reid, a Hamilton mother of an autistic daughter, Callie, 10, created a similar petition on change.org on Monday that asks for a second Amber Alert system to be set up when vulnerable children go missing. She has called her plan a "Draven Alert" in honour of the boy who died.

Her petition has garnered more than 41,000 signatures as of 9 p.m. on Tuesday. The existing Amber Alert system is for children who have been abducted.

"I also have an autistic child. And she has tried to run off several times. And I just happen to get lucky enough to be there, watching her when it happened, and grabbed her before she got too far or before she got hurt," Reid said on Tuesday.

"I'm just so tired of seeing the same story on the news with different kids. It's just something that I believe that could be prevented if we had something like this."

Crystal Hunter, spokesperson for Autism Ontario, said on Tuesday that an Amber Alert could provide important information to law enforcement or members of the community on how to best communicate with a missing person with autism.

"It's a very sad day for our community, and our hearts go out to Draven's family," she said.

Hunter says it's not only children who are at risk.

"It also affects adults as well, so there's vulnerable seniors, there's vulnerable adults. We're supportive of any action that moves us toward creating a solution," she said.

"If the individual is already in a state of panic or disorientation, and they are on the autism spectrum, there are different ways to communicate with those people, that may help de-escalate a situation or that may help them feel more safe."

With files from Greg Ross and Muriel Draaisma

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