An autistic teenage boy who was reported missing in northern California a full three years ago has been found outside a petrol station in a completely different state.
Connerjack Oswalt was just 16 when he wandered away from the family home near San Francisco in September 2019, and has not been seen by family members – until now.
1,200 kilometres and three years later, the now 19-year-old was identified when a “concerned community member” reported seeing a man sleeping outside a petrol station west of Salt Lake City, Utah.
“This morning, he’s very cold, he’s shivering, he’s obviously had a rough night,” Sheriff Justin Martinez said in a Facebook post on April 9.
After letting the mystery teen sit in a police vehicle to warm up, research began into who it might actually be. In the wake of community reports of a man seen recently in the area pushing a shopping cart, police were able to slowly piece it all together.
“Through past interactions and the Saturday interaction, it was clear to deputies that the man communicated differently,” the sheriff’s office posted, while also referencing an autism awareness hashtag since the man had refused (or was unable) to provide his name.
After searching through the National Centre for Missing and Exploited Children website, police eventually found Oswalt’s likeness on a missing poster.
“Deputies began making phone calls and were able to make contact with Connerjack’s mother,” Sheriff’s Lieutenant Andrew Wright said.
His mother told authorities Oswalt had a distinctive birthmark on his neck. Deputies found the mark on Oswalt, Lt Wright said.
Oswalt’s mother Suzanne Flint told Fox 13 News she had “never stopped looking” for her son. “There wasn’t a day I wasn’t searching for him, in some form or fashion.”
In one of two bodycam videos released by the sheriff’s office, Oswalt’s stepfather is seen exclaiming in disbelief as police show him a mug shot of Oswalt to confirm it was the same person.
“Is it him?” Oswalt’s mother can be heard saying on speaker phone.
“A little bit older, but yeah,” Oswalt’s stepfather responds.
“My sweetheart’s alive,” the mother is heard saying, while sobbing on the phone. “Can you go get him please?”
Oswalt’s stepfather and grandfather then travelled to Park City, Utah, to identify him in person and be reunited.
Investigators remain unsure as to exactly how he ended up 1,200 kilometres away in Salt Lake City.
“This remains the big question,” Lt Wright told USA TODAY. “Where did his journey take him over the past two and a half years? We suspect he didn’t give identifying information because he was scared of police.”
Images: Clearlake Police Department / Summit County Sheriff’s Office
This article first appeared on OverSixty.