State investigating autistic teen's disappearance

Boy with autism 'bolted' from classroom at Little City, was missing overnight

 
 
Updated 12/3/2015 8:32 PM
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  • David Quattrochi

    David Quattrochi

While a 15-year-old autistic boy was found safe Thursday morning after wandering away from a Palatine-area group home the day before, state child welfare officials said they are investigating the incident.

Department of Children and Family Services officials said caregivers at Little City properly reported the boy's disappearance, and the group home does not have any pending issues with the state agency or a track record of similar events.

Meanwhile, the boy, David Quattrochi, was reported in good condition at a hospital after being discovered sitting shirtless in a car early Thursday morning on the 3400 block of Wilshire Drive in Hoffman Estates, less than a mile from the Little City campus. An unidentified woman heading to work spotted him in her son's car as she was leaving her driveway.

"I believe the boy from Little City is sitting in my car in my driveway. Oh, my goodness!" the unidentified woman told emergency dispatchers when she called 911. "He's not wearing his shirt. I'm assuming it's the boy. I just took a quick look at the news this morning. I don't want to pull forward. I don't want to scare him."

It's unclear how long the boy had been in the car after running out of his classroom around 2:45 p.m. Wednesday.

Shawn Jeffers, executive director of Little City, said the group home has experienced its residents wandering away for short periods in the past, but never anything like this. The social service agency catering to children and adults with autism and other intellectual and developmental disabilities features an unfenced 56-acre campus, Jeffers said.

Jeffers said the facility's board of directors was convening Thursday evening to be briefed and determine what kinds of "short- and long-term plans" would be implemented to prevent such events in the future. That might include outfitting the boy with a bracelet that would allow caregivers to track him if he wanders away again.

Little City Chief Program Officer Rich Bobby said Quattrochi is "nonverbal" and on the high end of intensive need because of his penchant for running away. Bobby explained that Quattrochi isn't doing it out of fear or anger, but rather pleasure.

"When you look at sensory stimulation, David gets that sensation from running, and running fast," Bobby said. "But he doesn't have the cognitive abilities to find his way back."

Quattrochi began living at the group home about a year and a half ago because he was wandering away from home.

Karrie Dean, the Little City school administrator, said part of Quattrochi's therapy at the school is to be allowed to run under the supervision of caregivers.

"We allow him to do that in supervised spaces," she said. "Our staff will run with him, if that's necessary."

Quattrochi is supposed to have one-on-one supervision at the facility, Jeffers said. He was able to "bolt" from the classroom Wednesday because one of the staff members left to retrieve an iPad and the other teacher turned his back for 10 seconds, Jeffers said.

"We have video of the incident," Jeffers said. "It was just 10 seconds. David's timing was perfect."

There are two exits out of the classroom, Jeffers said. The video shows Quattrochi exiting the door that leads outside. However, the teacher thought the boy had run out the door that led to the indoor hallway and began searching further inside the school.

"So we had one minute where we were looking internally for him, and that one minute for this young man is a lifetime for many of us," Jeffers said.

Dean said she was notified at 2:52 p.m. of Quattrochi's disappearance and a call to police was made at 3:16 p.m.

Cook County sheriff's deputies scoured the area well into the evening along with staff members and administrators from the school.

Jeffers praised the support the facility received from the community as well. Little City officials singled out a pizza delivery driver from Rosati's who made several trips throughout the night to pick up fliers with Quattrochi's information and hand them out during his rounds.

"This community really showed us how much they cared yesterday," he said.

Authorities searching with helicopters and bloodhounds scoured the area well past midnight. Meanwhile, temperatures dropped to 29 degrees Wednesday night.

When found, authorities said, Quattrochi simply indicated to paramedics that he was "cold."

While incidents like the one involving Quattrochi are rare, Little City has made headlines in recent years for some other troubling events. In October a former child care worker was charged with battery against one of the facility's wards. The case is still pending. A month later, a 20-year-old former resident with cognitive disabilities who suffered from bipolar disorder was sentenced to 18 years in prison for the 2011 sexual assault of a female employee. Little City has since changed its admission policies following that attack.

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