Durham teen with autism found safe after frantic search

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Jamie Petersen (second from left) was found safe Saturday night (WTVD)

Despite having alarms and locks on their doors, 18-year-old Jamie Petersen somehow managed to wander away from his Durham home Saturday night. It was news his mother received over the phone while on her way back from a trip out of town with their younger son.

"I was informed that the police were here, there were eight officers and two canine units, and this was an hour out and they still hadn't found him," she recalled.

And, because Jamie is non-verbal, she was especially worried he wouldn't be able to tell someone he was lost or in need of help, let alone resist someone who might try to take advantage of him or harm him.

"It's really scary because Jamie is very, very sweet and very compliant, and would go with anyone, especially if they have food," she explained.

Police issued a Silver Alert Saturday night and conducted search efforts with the help of friends and neighbors who came to the family's aid. They fanned out across the Summit Street neighborhood and they searched with no luck for almost three hours. That is, until Jamie's mom called her husband on a hunch and told him to go check to see if the neighbors had seen their son.

"When he went over there, [the neighbors] have a closed-in back porch off their kitchen door. When he got in there he found Jamie in there asleep. He'd apparently gone in to their freezer that they had on their outside porch and eaten a bunch of French toast sticks and fallen asleep," she shares.

As a result, the search was called off just before 10 p.m., leaving the family relieved their son was safe and sound. They know the outcome could have been much worse, and now they're sharing their story in the hopes of raising awareness of the tendency some with autism have to wander.

The family says that while Jamie isn't easily frightened, others with autism can react very differently to strange people, sounds, and situations. They recommend that if you ever see someone who might be lost or unable to communicate with you, call 911 and keep an eye on them until help arrives.

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