Another Child with Autism Involved in Wandering-Related Death

John Burton Jr

John Burton, Jr.

In what has seemingly become an epidemic within the autism community, another child with autism has tragically drowned as a result of a wandering-related episode. Seven-year-old John Burton, Jr., from southeast Indiana, had just moved into a new neighborhood and disappeared while playing with the family dog. Burton’s mother noted that her son was unfamiliar with his new environment as they had just moved into their home the day earlier.

Search teams began looking for John soon after he disappeared and became increasingly alarmed when the boy’s dog returned home later in the afternoon, wet and alone. Burton’s body was discovered on Sunday in a nearby creek, one day after he went missing.

We have reported extensively on this site about the recent cases of autism-related deaths associated with wandering. With tragic incidents like these happening at a near-monthly rate, much more awareness and attention are needed for this out-of-control problem.

Some of the nation’s largest autism organizations have taken notice, and recently teamed up to form The Autism Wandering Awareness Alerts Response and Education (AWAARE) Collaboration. The group’s mission is to prevent wandering incidents and wandering-related deaths within the autism community through education, resources and awareness. They currently provide a free PDF wandering brochure, which can be downloaded at

Drowning has been cited as the leading cause of death for children and adults with autism, with a large majority of these incidents occurring during wandering episodes. Exposure deaths due to wandering have also been very problematic in recent years, most notably in the winter months. Here are a few recent cases that underscore just how serious this problem has become:

James Delorey – December, 2009. A seven-year-old boy with autism from Cape Breton, Nova Scotia, went missing after following his dog into a wooded area. He was later found huddled in the fetal position in thick brush and snow less than a mile from his home. He was rushed to the hospital, but eventually passed away from severe hypothermia and exposure.

Mason Medlam – July, 2010. Five-year-old with autism who died of his injuries after being pulled from a small pond in a town outside of Witchita, Kansas. Medlam wandered from his home out of a partially opened window and had been missing for more than a half-hour before being discovered.

Zachary Clark – August, 2010. A five-year-old boy with autism from Tucson, Arizona who was pulled from a golf course pond located less than a half-mile from his home. Despite efforts at CPR, Clark was pronounced dead shortly after being airlifted to a nearby hospital.

Nathan Kinderdine - August, 2010. A seven-year-old with autism from Ohio, wandered away from his class during a summer enrichment program at school. Kinderline was found by a custodian at the bottom of the school’s indoor swimming pool and although school nurses tried to revive him, he was pronounced dead shortly after his arrival to the hospital.

Skyler Wayne – October, 2010. An eight-year-old boy with autism who was found in an Idaho river three houses away from his home. Wayne was in the care of a babysitter at the time of the incident and was found in less than two feet of water. 

Savannah Martin – February, 2011. A seven-year-old girl from Oklahoma who was found face-down in a chilly pond about 50 yards from her home. Her two-year-old brother was also found with her in the water, but was face-up and buoyed by the Styrofoam in a bicycle helmet he had been wearing. Despite the efforts by the girl’s mother to revive her, Savannah was later pronounced dead.

Jackson Kastner – March, 2011. Four-year-old who drowned in a Michigan river after wandering from his home. The river was located 300 yards from Kastner’s home and swept him away — he was later found a mile-and-a-half downstream. The boy was airlifted to a hospital but attempts to revive him were unsuccessful.  

Adam Benhamama– April, 2011. A three-year-old boy who is both non-verbal and deaf, disappeared during a game of hide-and-seek while his father briefly went inside the house they were visiting. Adam’s body was recovered almost one month later over one mile downstream from where he initially disappeared.

Blake Murrell – April, 2011. A four-year-old youngster from Oklahoma that was found deceased in a duck pond a short distance from his home. Despite an investigation for potential negligence, Murrell’s family was exonerated in what police describe as "an unfortunate accident." 

John Burton, Jr. – June, 2011. Seven-year-old John had just moved into a new Indiana neighborhood and disappeared while playing with the family dog. A search was initiated when the dog returned home without John. Despite an intensive search, he was found the next day in a nearby creek.

Our thoughts and prayers are with the Burton family during this difficult time and hopefully, this will be our last story on this topic for the foreseeable future.

14 Responses to Another Child with Autism Involved in Wandering-Related Death

  1. Susan says:

    Apparently he had a tracking device, but the batteries weren’t properly charged.

  2. A says:

    Very sad. May this child rest in peace! Prayers and love to the family.

  3. Darci says:

    Very sad. I am so happy that we have a fenced area for our kids to play and we are with them every second. My son is 4 and hasn’t been diagnosed with Autism, but we think he is in the lower spectrum. I don’t trust him to be in the yard by himself. In some of these cases, it could be a parenting issue. Sadly the kids had to suffer for it.

  4. Merri says:

    My daughter is now 23 but when she was little it was horrible. We sent out a flyer to our neighbors with her picture and our phone number. Stating ” if you see this child, we are looking for her, please call.” Then we explained a little bit about Autism. Also it is very important to get them into a swim program. They usually love water and gravitate toward it. We taught her to swim very early and I am sure it saved her life. My prayers to these familys suffering a loss.

  5. Amy says:

    My son is 7 and is non verbal and was quite a runner. which included him running on train tracks. Luckily now we do have a bracelet and he has slowed down on his running. But I know How hard it is when they go missing. My prayers to all of them…

  6. june rushton says:

    So glad that Darcy is the perfect mother,
    so sorry she dose not think that these parents who are suffering terribly dont need to hear what she has to say, they are going through enough.

    have some empathy darcy instead of critisizing these poor parents.
    june rushton

  7. Katherine says:

    I agree June!

  8. Allison says:

    I agree. Darci has some nerve to read an article like this and then insult the mothers that have lost children in this manner. Darci, have some compassion and respect for others and NEVER post your self-centered, rude comments again. I pray for all these familys as well as Darci’s ignorance.

  9. Bill says:

    i think you all are unfairly attcking Darci…she only stated that in some of these cases, poor parenting could be to blame which is unforunately the truth……she wasnt directly referencing the family in this story, but instead makeing a general statement about why some of these tragedies occur. it may have inadvertedly come across as insensitive but I have to agree that it may be true in some cases

  10. JUNE RUSHTON says:

    have you never turned your back on a child for a second (thats all it takes)for them to wander off maybe another child has hurt himself and your comforting them. these parents whoever they are should not be critisised. IN their hour of grief.

  11. Darci says:

    Thank you Bill. I’m glad that someone understands what I was trying to say. Some people like to be confrontational. I don’t see anything in my comment that points to a specific parent in this article and telling them that its their fault. That would be pretty disgusting and i don’t think that way. This is not a personal email to the parents. Its an article that you can make comments, on the situation.

    I am sad for these parents that lost their children. I am sorry if any of these parents (or their families), were upset by my comment. May your children rest in peace. They are now your angels in heaven, as they were on Earth.

  12. Linda says:

    I have a 3 year old nephew who wanders constantly. He must be watched every second. Although I am not with him every day, I pray that there is someone every minute who is watching him like a hawk. He is so sweet and adorable. It would be hell to not have him in our lives. I pray for all who have lost a child in this manner. Remember, there is no such thing as an accident, things happen for a reason even though we will never understand it while we are here.

  13. Sarah says:

    This is tragic. Being a mother of a child with autism and as well as being a social worker, I know the inherent dangers of wandering. I take every precaution to protect my daughter from wandering and that means protecting her from herself. It means sacrifices for everyone; her, and our family. It may take me 3 minutes to undo a cabinet lock to get out a bottle of spray cleaner, but I know who’s not getting in there at 2 am to pour cleaners all over the kitchen floor and potential create a nightmare that she could poison herself with while we slept.

    What bothers me is that when I read of stories where autistic children have wandered and drowned, everyone takes a step back and shakes their head at how tragic it is. But if its a story about a “normal” child slip out of sight and drowning, we curse the neglectful parents. And I say this AS the parent of a severely autistic child who elopes at the first opportunity she gets. Autism is not a pass. Its not an excuse. If anything, you have a bigger responsibility, you should be more vigilante. Every death is a tragedy, a loss that should not have happened.

    I also noticed that out of all the children listed who have been lost to wandering, there was one incident that stood out. “Savannah Martin – February, 2011. A seven-year-old girl from Oklahoma who was found face-down in a chilly pond about 50 yards from her home. Her two-year-old brother was also found with her in the water, but was face-up and buoyed by the Styrofoam in a bicycle helmet he had been wearing.” I find it that if both children are autistic, that they would be left to wander. It seems that the little girl had autism and they were left unsupervised.

  14. Bob Adler says:

    Our prayers go out to all the families that must be vigilant every minute to protect their loved ones. The non-profit organization Feels Good To Help, is accepting donations to distribute alerting devices to needy families. If you can help in any way please visit their website and donate or volunteer. If you know of anyone that can provide support, please pass this along. Every child that wanders or bolts should have a device and that is one of the goals of the organization. We know that not everyone can afford to get these devices and we want to help those in need.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>


Important Disclaimer

All information in this site is presented for support and educational purposes only. It is not intended to substitute for medical treatment or visiting a licensed medical physician.

Visitors who desire to apply or use any information listed herein are urged to consult with licensed healthcare professionals first. All information is deemed reliable but its accuracy can't be guaranteed.

Did You Know?

  • * In 1970, Autism affected 1 out of 10,000 children
  • * Autism now affects 1 out of 88 children
  • * Autism affects 1 in 54 boys
  • * 1.7 million Americans have some form of autism
  • * 4 out of 5 autistic children are boys

RSS Latest Article Entries

  • Pioneers of Change: How Two Mothers are Making a Difference August 16, 2014
    Out of the enormous tragedy that is Sandy Hook, rays of light are shining forth. Scarlett Lewis is the mother of Jesse Lewis, a six year old victim of the massacre. Moved by the words “Nurturing, Healing, Love” that her son wrote on a blackboard days before his death, she has created the the Jesse […]

Home - Autism Symptoms - Autism Videos - Autism Organizations - Autism Message Boards - Articles - Autism Recipes - Hyperlexia - Fragile X - Tag Cloud - AQ Test - Contact