OAKLAND, Calif. - Parents of a child with autism are demanding answers after he walked away from his Oakland elementary school, and was not found until hours later.
This happened at the Manzanita Community School during its afterschool program.
Dominic and Erikka Whitten say they still feel waves of panic thinking about how their 8-year-old son Desean was able to leave campus without anyone noticing. They want to know how he was able to leave, why no one noticed, and why the school is not able to give them a timeline.
Desean, a 3rd grader, was found at a Wendy’s drive-thru near International Boulevard and Fruitvale Avenue just after 8 p.m. Friday. He somehow ended up there after walking away from his afterschool program at Manzanita Community School, which is nearly a mile and a half away.
The alarm was raised when his dad arrived just before 6 to pick him up. Dominic Whitten described the panicked scene, "Everybody is scrambling around, starting to get worried. And I still get no answer to where he is or what’s going on."
Nobody could find Desean. Police were called and did a grid search of the area.
"We were running through the campus looking through dumpsters, looking under cabinets and we were so afraid we were going to find him hurt or something like that," said Desean’s mother, Erikka.
"My heart, my whole body just dropped. I didn’t think I was going to see my baby again," said Dominic.
The family is still shaken by what happened and. Domiic and Erikka wants answers. They want to know what time Desean left the school, how he got out, and if anyone was with him.
"This is not the kind of child that walks off, he’s afraid of loud noises," said Erikka.
Desean’s parents met with school officials and watched surveillance video from the school Friday. They say it shows Desean near a back gate around 3:45 pm. Then the video cuts off and he isn’t seen again. Erikka said they were told to file a Public Records Act request in order to get additional information about the incident.
"That school has no excuse for what they did," said Erikka. "And when we went back up there today their solution was to put a chain around the gate and that’s it. That’s not unacceptable."
KTVU went by the school and did see chains on the gates.
The Oakland Unified School District provided a statement. Part of it reads, "The district is working closely with the after-school provider to ensure this kind of incident does not happen again."
The Whittens want somebody held accountable and for now, are keeping Desean out of the afterschool program.
"I might have to reduce my hours or stop working altogether because I myself am not comfortable leaving him there," said Erikka.
Desean was not injured. Someone in the drive-thru spotted him trying to open a door and realized something was wrong since he was alone at night, so that person called police.