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Last fall, when Debi McMurray saw that a young autistic boy was lost in Mercer County, she was heartbroken.
"I was watching Channel 3, and Dawn Gee said that an Amber Alert couldn't be issued for this child because he wasn't abducted. I thought it covered everything," she said. "I just couldn't believe that the most vulnerable people [those with developmental disabilities] were not covered."
The news hit McMurray even harder because her son, Chase, 22, is a severe autistic and is non-verbal.
"It was a day like this [overcast, cool and rainy] in September when they found him [the boy from Mercer] 48 hours after he went missing, and they had to pour the rainwater from his shoes," she said. "It broke my heart, so I contacted Brad to see what we could do."
Brad is state Rep. Brad Montell (R-Shelbyville), a family friend, and the two got to work on the Chase Alert Bill, BR300, announced on Thursday, which would revise KRS 39F.010 to include language defining a person with developmental disability, including autism. It would also create the "Chase Alert," which would be reported to state and local police and news outlets just like an Amber Alert. The name informing that it is a search for a person, child or adult, who is developmentally disabled.
The alert also would be the first in the nation for a person with developmental disabilities.
"Chase is no longer a child, so it was important to me that it cover all special needs," McMurray said. "Obviously, with Chase being non-verbal, you can't search for him in the same way you would any other person."
Donovan Fornwalt, the director of governmental affairs with The Council on Developmental Disabilities, a non-profit parent association founded in 1952, also helped draft the bill.
"My son was lost last Christmas in Kohl's, but he can tell you his name and my cell phone number," Fornwalt said. "But with kids and adults like Chase, they can't do that.
"Many of them will act differently when they're lost. Maybe they have a fear of authority, or they may run and hide, even if they're in the same store or just down the street from their home."
Fornwalt said the Chase Alert would help provide the necessary training to help responders.
"I've learned a lot through the years by working with parents, siblings and grandparents," he said. "They offer tremendous insights that we can use to help form into a curriculum."
Added Chase's father Rod McMurray: "We have a freshman at Christian Academy [the McMurray's 15-year-old son Keaton], but he's played big brother to Chase for quite a while now. He really stepped up and helped in the writing of this when we couldn't find the right words.
"The only thing that kept him from getting in the car and going to help look for that child in Mercer County was the little legal issue of not having a license."
Montell said the bill should get a fair look in both the House and Senate.
"This isn't a political issue at all," he said. "I think it's pretty non-controversial, and it should garner a lot of support. Anything can happen, but I don't anticipate there being any problems."
And hopefully Kentucky will be at the forefront of a national movement.
"If Kentucky can become a model and get this program going right, perhaps it could become a national program," Fornwalt said. "That would take a while to get done, but in the meantime we can help protect Kentuckians."
And with the number of autistic children climbing, more and more Kentuckians may need that help.
When Chase was diagnosed, officials said the number of autistic children was 1 in 10,000 children, now it's about 1 in 100, the McMurrays said.
"That incident in Mercer County wasn't our county, but it doesn't matter, we're all Kentuckians," Debi McMurray said.