More than 47,000 people have signed a petition calling for the creation of a new alert system for missing vulnerable children, following the tragic death of Draven Graham, an 11-year-old autistic boy whose body was found in the Scugog River 24 hours after he went missing from his home in Lindsay, Ontario.
Katrina Reid of Hamilton, who has a 10-year-old daughter on the autism spectrum, started a petition at change.org/p/draven-alert “to create a Draven Alert for missing autistic and vulnerable/special needs children in honour of Draven Graham since the Amber Alert is only for abducted children.”
“I’ve chosen to focus on autistic/special needs/vulnerable minors, again because this situation is fresh in everyone’s minds and hearts and these are just baby steps towards invoking great change,” Reid writes. “This is also something very close to my own heart, as my autistic child is also a flight risk and has made a run for it multiple times before. I was lucky enough to be in the right place at the right time, and get ahold of her before she could get very far, and before she could get hurt.”
Draven Graham went missing from his home on Queen Street in Lindsay on Sunday afternoon (June 12), dressed only in a t-shirt and jogging pants. An extensive search followed throughout the day and overnight.
Police believed the 11-year-old boy, who was on the autism spectrum with limited verbal skills, was possibly hiding. Searchers later found his discarded clothing, which they believed he removed after they became wet with rain. On Monday afternoon, police divers recovered his body from the Scugog River near his home.
A memorial for Draven has been created at Rivera Park in Lindsay, where a candlelight vigil is being held at 7 p.m. on Friday (June 17). Draven’s uncle Jason Meneely has organized a GoFundMe campaign to help the family with the costs of his funeral.
Suzi Guarrasi of Ajax, along with two other mothers each with an autistic child, launched a similar petition calling on the Ontario government and the Ontario Provincial Police to review their policies and procedures on issuing alerts.
According to the U.S. National Autism Association, accidental drowning accounted for 91 per cent of deaths in the U.S. from 2009 and 2011 that were reported in children 14 and younger on the autism spectrum who wandered or eloped, with 68 per cent of these deaths happening in a nearby pond, creek, lake, or river.
Ontario’s Amber Alert system is an emergency broadcast issued when a child is abducted and believed to be at imminent risk of bodily harm or death. The alert includes a description of the child and (if available) the alleged suspect or involved vehicle and is immediately broadcast through television, radio, and LTE-connected and compatible wireless devices via Alert Ready, Canada’s emergency alerting system.
The Amber Alert system originated in the U.S. after nine-year-old Amber Hagerman was kidnapped from Arlington, Texas and brutally murdered in 1996 (the case remains unsolved). As well as being named in her memory, the system’s name is an acronym for “America’s Missing: Broadcast Emergency Response.” The Ontario government adopted the system in 2003.
According to the Ontario Provincial Police, the Amber Alert system is not used for missing children because “overuse (of the system) could diminish public response when it is truly needed.”
The recent petitions demanding a change to the system are not the first on change.org. Three years ago, a U.S. woman launched a petition for a “Serenity Alert” named after Serenity Dennard, a nine-year-old girl who ran away from a children’s home in South Dakota in 2019 and was never found.
That petition has received over 300,000 signatures.