Just days after Robert Wood, an 8-year-old autistic boy, was found alive after six days of being lost in Hanover County, deputies one hour away in Manassas, secured a simple band around the arm of another autistic boy, 10-year-old Jimmy Kirkland—an action that, perhaps, secured him from suffering the same fate as Wood.
Jimmy’s parents, Rachel and Jim Kirkland of Manassas Park, said they fought long and hard to get their son off a long waiting list and into Prince William County’s Project Lifesaver, a program that uses radio wave-emitting bracelets to track people who are prone to wandering off, such as those with Autism and Alzheimer’s Disease.
“By all accounts, Robert Wood is very much like Jimmy. It was as gift from God that he was found alive,” Rachel Kirkland said. “I’ll do whatever I can to prevent that. We don’t take his safety for granted, but he is fast. If you make a mistake and he sprints, you really have a problem.”
One of the traits of Jimmy’s autism is hyperactivity, she said.
Kirkland said she knew her son needed Project Lifesaver long before the October disappearance and recovery of Wood.
About a year ago, Jimmy ran away from her mother in a crowded shopping mall.
“She said, ‘Jimmy is missing’ … and he was no where to be found in Macy’s. The Manassas Macy’s has three exits … he wasn’t in the store anymore because we looked everywhere,” Kirkland said.
Jimmy was soon found near the mall food court.
“The whole ordeal was 45 minutes … I honestly don’t know how (Wood’s mother) went six days without knowing where her son was,” she said.
Shortly after the mall incident, Jimmy got away from one of his aids and ran through an emergency exit door at the Manassas Park Community Center before being rescued by city police Officer William “Quiz” Quesenberry, Rachel Kirkland said.
“ … Jimmy runs off and he can’t speak,” she said. “He has run off four times in the last year. Police have been involved in three of (the incidents) so he needed this—he needed this badly.”
The Kirklands applied for Project Lifesaver, which is administered through the Prince William County Sheriff’s Office, and waited.
“There was some question as to whether the (first) application was ever seen by anyone,” Rachel Kirkland said.
Desperate to get some answers, and her eldest son the assistance he needed, she began asking questions and expressing her concerns on the Internet.
On Oct. 25, the mother and son approached at a candidates forum in Manassas Park and asked for help.
The sheriff later said seeing Jimmy helped him to understand the gravity of the situation and the intense need to quickly move people off the Project Lifesaver waiting list.
Within a few days, deputies contacted Kirkland and personally brought the Project Lifesaver paperwork to her job. Within a week, the sheriff’s office found the funding to equip Jimmy with a Project Lifesaver device, Prince William County Chief Deputy Sheriff John Collier said.
“I was anxious the entire day, I was so excited. I got the boys from school and we all went over there, it was like Christmas," she said. "I was teary-eyed. It was very emotional. Even more so because of what happened to (Wood) We waited so long to finally get this."
The device has a 100 percent success rate, deputies said.
“It’s emitting a signal all the time,” Collier said. A person wearing the band can be tracked by any law enforcement jurisdictions that have the tracking equipment, he said.
Fairfax and Spotsylvania Counties have it, so all they would need to do is tune into the frequency of the bracelet worn by the missing person, he said.
“The longer someone is exposed to the elements, the longer they are exposed to dangers,” Collier said. “We want to recover them quickly to secure them.”
Though volunteers were used in the case of young Robert Wood, using employees to conduct a search can get expensive over time for departments—not that cost matters when it comes to someone's safety, Collier said. Still, Project Lifesaver is a win for the victim and for taxpayers, he added.
The band is waterproof and the batteries are changed every 30 days by deputies, but the department is looking into getting volunteers to handle the battery replacement process, Collier said.
The device has a lifespan of about a year.
Right now, there are two adults and 11 children in the PWC Project Lifesaver program.
The sheriff’s office began the project in 2006 with about eight clients at a start up cost of about $7,000, Collier said.
Right now there are 15 people on the waiting list, and the sheriff’s office is waiting to hear if they will receive more contributions to clear the waiting list and get everybody in the program. It would cost about $15,000 to upgrade the entire system and accommodate everyone, Collier said.
“We’ve proven to ourselves that the system works,” Collier said. “We don’t want anybody to go missing, but if they do, you really hope they have one of these bracelets.”
For more information about becoming apart of Project Lifesaver, call Deputy Joe Sutton or, his supervisor Lt. Heath Stearns at 703-792-6070.