On a beautiful early September day 5-year-old Lucian disappeared while his father and siblings were exploring the playground at his favorite park. Nearby, the Yakima River was flowing swiftly, fed by the annual release from the Rimrock Lake, an alpine water storage reservoir. When they were unable to locate him, his parents feared the worst as nonverbal autistic Lucian was curiously drawn to water.
Wandering away from family is common among kids with autism according to Laura Crooks, CEO of Children’s Village, a Yakima collaboration of the Memorial Foundation, MultiCare Hospital and Yakima Farm Workers Clinic who provide services to and resources for children and families of those presenting on the autism spectrum.
Upon hearing the news of Lucian’s disappearance, Laura and her team set about brainstorming ideas at their first weekly meeting and began researching solutions. Through the process the group purchased and tested a wide variety of personal tracking devices with a goal to find the easiest to use system that would work in all conditions, including underwater. Ultimately, with a clear passion for our kids, the team zeroed in on a durable Tile device. With a free smartphone app, the location of a small Tile could be tracked via Bluetooth technology while triggering a tone which can be heard up to 250 feet away, perfect for families searching for lost children.
Wilkinson team members touring Children’s Village: Melanie Cornelius, David McKinney, Children’s Village CEO Laura Crooks, Kellee Mains, Memorial Foundation CEO Erin Knapp
Children’s Village wall of honor, Apple label style recognition
Children’s Village staff then contacted other agencies including LynchPin that provide additional services and support to families that may include one or more members with autism.
The team then trained families to tie the trackers into shoes, sew them into clothing, and download and use the smartphone app. Demand for the simple device was overwhelming with over 100 units distributed to Yakima Valley families in April 2023 and a second order of Tile devices was needed.
For a variety of personal reasons, Wilkinson staff have been drawn to and have become passionate advocates for Children’s Village, developing close relationships, volunteering, and participating in the Passion for the Village fundraiser. Now, as part of their annual employee directed giving plan, Wilkinson is proud to have been selected by the Memorial Foundation and Children’s Village as the community partner to sponsor the purchase of an additional 120 individual Tile trackers.
As Lucian’s story concerned parents across the Yakima valley and beyond, it hit too close to home for some Wilkinson staff members including April McNeil who has an adult son with autism, clearly recalling the many times her son wandered away as a child.
Tragically, Lucian was found four months after his disappearance, a few days after Christmas, his body located many miles downstream in the now frozen waters of the Yakima River.
His memory serves to inspire Children’s Village to continue finding creative ways to assist parent’s address the challenges they face when raising children with special needs.
Wilkinson is grateful to have an opportunity to play a small role in assisting families locate loved ones and preventing further tragedy.