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Nine-year-old non-verbal autistic boy found after a six-hour search

Tuesday 2 November 2021 | Written by Caleb Fotheringham | Published in Local, National

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Nine-year-old non-verbal autistic boy found after a six-hour search
Grover Harmon and Malina Latham with their 9-year old son Lee-Rick who went missing at 5.30pm on Sunday. He was found at 11.30pm that evening. - 21110117

Nine-year-old non-verbal autistic boy, Lee-Rick Harmon was found deep in the bush at 11.30pm on Sunday after more than 100 people spent six hours searching for him.

Lee-Rick’s father, Grover Harmon found his son, with the help of a team of five that included a policeman and two football friends.

More than 100 people from around Rarotonga turned up to search for Lee-Rick after a call went out that he was missing.   

“We had no idea where we were looking, just searching blank,” Harmon said.

After searching for just over an hour, immediately after his son’s disappearance at 5.30pm, Harmon said he came back to his home to re-group and head back out with the team of five.

Harmon and his partner Malina Latham’s property is at Arai Te Tonga on the Back Rd.

The property is located on a hill and the back of the section is covered in dense bush that spreads into the mountains.

Harmon told his search group they would look for his son behind the section on a ridge, checking both sides, in case he had fallen or hurt himself.

Before his disappearance Harmon said his son had some ice cream, came outside to play with the soil behind the section, and then vanished.

"That's when we panicked and went searching down the roads,” he said.

"It takes him like a minute, and he's gone."

The group searched for Harmon non-stop until 11pm when they decided to head back to recharge their torches.

"We were way in there, we were far like two kilometres in there, just going slowly,” Harmon said.

"I heard this little 'hmm', I heard him in the bush and asked my uncle 'did you hear that?’

“And no one clicked, (but) I know my son, and I just ran in the bush.

"There were all these vines and stuff, then I just looked and figured the noise was close and I saw him standing there by himself, this was around 11.30pm, and what a relief.

"As soon as he knew it was me, when he recognised my voice, he just ran at me.

"That was hours of none stop walking up and down."

Harmon said Lee-Rick was fine, but thought he could have been a bit scared from the noise of the search.

Malina Latham, Lee-Rick’s mother, said a lot of people came to search for her son.

“Young people, old people, families, they were all here just looking.”

Harmon said they were so grateful for the support of the community.

"When we were up there (searching) on that hill torches were everywhere in the valley," he said.

"It was amazing all the support we got from the community.

"Even people from the other side of the island.

“We are grateful for the support that we got from Raro, it's crazy."

After finding Lee-Rick, Harmon said eventually the group came out of the bush at Matavera, kilometres from where the search started.

A mass text was sent out by Cook Islands Police on Sunday night, asking people to search for Lee-Rick moments before he was found.

Another one was sent early Monday morning, notifying everyone he was found. 

Police spokesperson Trevor Pitt said text blasts are not unusual for police and can be a useful tool.