I’ve gone back and forth in my head about writing this post. It needs to be written, but I don’t want to. My head wants to stay in the sand, safe from the images and the “what if it were my child” thoughts. But it would be a disservice not to write this, not to honor the young man named Hun-Joon Lee. A disservice to his family.
Hun-Joon Lee, a 19 year old Whittier, California resident was severely autistic, non-verbal and functioned at a 3 year old level. He attended a special school for young adults and was the center of a loving, devoted family who called him Paul.
This past Friday morning, Paul’s mother put him on the bus to school and I’m sure went about her day as always. When the time came for Paul’s bus to bring him home at 3:30, there was no bus, no Paul. She called her son’s school, who then called the private bus company that bussed him each day. Upon going out to the bus yard, employees discovered Paul’s unresponsive body in the aisle of his bus, near the front door. Ambulances and police were called, CPR was done to no avail..Paul was dead. It’s believed at this time that Paul never got off the bus after his morning pick-up by a substitute bus driver and spent the entire 90 degree day alone on the bus before succumbing.
How? How did this happen? This isn’t a tiny kindergarten child riding a full-sized bus, who might hide underneath a seat, or be missed behind a tall seat back. This was a grown young man of 19 on a much smaller, special needs bus.
Even though it was reported to be a substitute driver, protocols must be in place, like a head count. How many kids did you pick up? How many did you drop off? Walk the bus front to back, even the small ones. Was any autism training provided to this driver? Any of their drivers? Obviously he knew these were special needs kids..was there an aide on the bus?
There are so many questions. Why didn’t school call home to see why Paul was absent? How did a driver get off a tiny bus and not see a grown man sitting there still? If he sat there all day, why didn’t the driver see him again when he got back on the bus for the afternoon run? Different bus? How? Why?
All of it makes me completely heart-sick. This poor boy…unable to communicate, was probably waiting for an adult to prompt him what to do next. And no adults came. Was he confused? Scared? Panicking? The day was hot, and he was in that closed bus for upwards of 8 hours before being found. I’m at once enraged, devastated and terrified for my own 18 year old autistic child whose every move is dictated by an adult authority figure each and every day.
Luckily Hallee’s driver is great and knows my kiddo and her needs very well. He drives with an aide on the bus every day and that aide sits directly next to Hal, they are literally joined at the hip from my door to school and back again.They know that I see her on the bus in the morning and they know I’ll be waiting for her in the afternoon. In the event that there’s a substitute driver, I’m out the door introducing myself and then I’m on the phone to school to make sure she’s arrived safely. Same thing in the afternoon to make sure she’s on the bus home. I used to worry once in awhile that I was being too over-protective, but figured I’d rather the school and the bus company get sick of talking to me than have something happen to my kid.
What this family is going through is the worst kind of heartbreak, because it was completely avoidable. Somebody dropped the ball to the extent that this beautiful young man died. Bus driver, bus company, school..all are going to be held accountable, but what does that do for Paul? For his poor mother? More stringent guidelines must be put into place so no one else’s child will lose their life alone and afraid, abandoned by the very people paid to keep them safe.
A GoFundMe account has been set up to help Paul’s family here.