Michigan 5-year-old with nonverbal autism left alone on bus

LAPEER, Mich. — A Michigan mother endured an agonizing 90 minutes when her 5-year-old daughter — who has autism — went missing after getting on the bus after school.

Charlie Fox was diagnosed with nonverbal autism a few years ago.

“Usually just yes or no answers,” said Sarah Fox, Charlie’s mother.

Fox wants nothing more than to help her little girl. Each morning, she takes Charlie down to her bus stop, which is a couple of blocks away. She said it took time, but eventually, she trusted the Lapeer Community Schools bus driver and the aide to get her daughter where she needs to be safely. Fox said that didn’t happen Wednesday, Aug. 28 because her daughter never made it to therapy.

“What do you mean she’s not there? Are you sure she’s not there?” Fox said, recounting the event.

Fox said she always worried this might happen. She checked the GPS-equipped belt Charlie wears, but the battery was dead. Fox said she called the bus garage to see what happened, and she got an answer she didn’t expect.

“‘Well, whoever we gave her to yesterday, that’s who we gave her to,'” said Fox. “That was me, so I hung up and then called my daughter back and made her check the house.”

Friends, family, and police were all searching for Charlie. Fox said there was a call about 90 minutes later. Charlie was at the Lapeer Community bus garage on the No. 79 bus, just waiting.

“She couldn’t have asked for help,” Fox said. “She couldn’t have screamed. She just sat there and waited, wondering why she was buckled in and no one was there.”

Lapeer Schools leaders apologized to the family. They said an investigation was ongoing.

Fox said the apology wasn’t enough, because this set Charlie back.

“She’s been hitting herself more, and she gets frustrated more,” Fox said. “She’s been headbanging herself more, which means there are bruises on her head more.”

Fox said she planned to take Charlie to school and therapy herself from now on.

“Give her to me, and hug her so tight, and not letting go — ever,” Fox said.

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