Search for Robert Inspires Parents to Join Project Lifesaver

HANOVER, VA (WWBT) - A massive week-long search for 9-year-old Robert Wood Jr. has several Hanover County parents taking preventative measures. It's been almost a month since the boy with autism went missing in Hanover County. He was found miraculously 6 days later, thanks to help from thousands of volunteers.

But deputies say several parents contacted them, after watching Robert's ordeal that week. Donna Gammon's son has autism too, and she couldn't stop watching the search, hoping Robert would be found. Her son, Austin, has autism too and she knows how quickly he's gotten away before.

"Anyone that has experience with a child with autism knows that once they're fixated on something, Nothing or no one's going to come between them and their source of fixation," said Gammon.

One time Austin ran from his grandmother's house and headed home, because he knew his mom was sick and he wanted to help her. His grandmother had to call 911.

"The sheriff's deputies got to him right before he got to Atlee Road," Gammon told our cameras. "Had they not stopped him when they did, he would have crossed that road and he wouldn't have cared whether anyone was coming."

Deputies found Austin so quickly because he wears a tracking bracelet, part of a program called Project Lifesaver.

Officers say once a participant wearing one of the bracelet-style tracking devices goes missing, it only takes them an average of only 30 minutes to track them down. The system uses radio waves to find the missing person.

Ten more families signed up for the program, after watching the search for Robert.

"Every family, every care giver actually alluded to that," said Sgt. Tim Sutton. "It became a huge issue with them. They saw what can happen and realized the importance of it."

The program is completely free to residents, and those involved in the project say it saves parents mental anguish too.

"I can sleep at night comfortably knowing that if my child does wander off, then Hanover could get to him, said Gammon.

"If you have one search using this equipment, I would say it's paid for itself," added Sutton.

Project Lifesaver is for anyone with a cognitive disability like Alzheimers or autism. The participant has to wear the bracelet at all times and police change the battery once a month.

If you're interested in signing up for Project Lifesaver through Hanover County, call Hanover County's Sheriff's Office at: 804-365-6110.

Copyright 2011 WWBT NBC12. All rights reserved.