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December 14, 2002

Boy, family reunited

From: South Bend Tribune, IN - 14 Dec 2002

4-year-old wandered out of apartment

Tribune Staff Writer

SOUTH BEND -- For someone who has been unable to hear or speak since birth, 4-year-old Ernesto Palomin found a unique way to signal that he wanted to be reunited with his family Friday morning after wandering away from home.

The boy used the flashlight he carried with him when he slipped out of the family apartment in the 1600 block of Riverside Drive in the dark to signal a passing motorist and wind up back in his mother's loving arms.

Ernesto managed to walk out of the apartment unnoticed sometime after 4:30 a.m. His mother, Racheal Palomin, awoke about 6:30 a.m. to find him missing and began a frantic search.

She looked on foot throughout their Riverside North Apartments complex but was unable to find him.

Unbeknownst to his mother, he had walked north along Riverside. Ernesto's grandmother lives on Bryan Street to the north. He apparently was walking toward her house in the dark, Racheal Palomin said after she and her son were reunited.

Ernesto had managed to walk about a quarter-mile along Riverside to near Beale Street when Danielle Bell saw him standing along the road about 6:45 a.m. A housekeeping aide at Cardinal Nursing Home, she was dropping off her son, Kalin, 6, and daughter, Rhaven, 3, at day care before going to work.

"He was flashing the flashlight at my car like he wanted me to stop," Bell said.

She stopped and got out to question the youngster, but because he is deaf and does not speak, she could not communicate with him.

"He was kind of frightened at first but calmed down pretty quickly," Bell said. "I think I did more crying than he did. My daughter was also crying, asking, 'Where is his mommy?'"

Ernesto gestured as though he wanted to cross Riverside and go down by the bank of the nearby St. Joseph River, Bell said.

"I said, 'No way,' " she recalled.

Instead, she drove him to the nursing home, where Ernesto was given a hot breakfast and police were called.

Cpl. David Modlin, who picked Ernesto up and took him to the South Bend police station, has a friend who is unable to hear and speak and was able to carry on a limited conversation with Ernesto in sign language. But the friend was unable to find out Ernesto's name or address.

Fortunately, when she returned home after her futile search for Ernesto, Racheal Palomin called police, who told them they had her son. She drove to the station for a tearful reunion.

Ernesto's mother said she had last seen him asleep about 4:30 a.m. when she awoke briefly. The boy also has a brother, Enrique, 3, and a sister, Elisia, 1.

The two youngsters were still asleep, and Ernesto was gone when she awoke, Racheal said.

It was the first time Ernesto has ever wandered off, his mother said. He apparently managed to undo the deadbolt lock on the apartment door.

"He's pretty calm when he's at home. He likes to watch TV and play video games," his mother said. "But he's also very active, very hyper at times."

Ernesto attends the Head Start program at Harrison School, where his teachers all know sign language, Racheal Palomin said.

His mother bought a pair of additional locks for the apartment door Friday and was having them installed high enough that Ernesto can't reach them should he be overcome with wanderlust again.

"I'm making sure he doesn't go outside by himself again," she said.

Bell said she is grateful she happened to be driving down Riverside at just the right time to find Ernesto.

"It could have been the wrong person who picked him up," she said.

Reuniting a mother and lost child is one of those cases that warms the hearts of police officers, Modlin said.

"It was kind of neat how it all worked out," he said.

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