OLEAN, NY (WIVB) For the nearly two weeks that Olean residents were searching for an autistic young man, he had been trying to gain some independence by staying in a vacant home on Adams Street, according to police.
On Saturday night, a shift supervisor recognized him as he walked into the restroom of a Wendy’s Restaurant in Olean. “I know his mannerisms enough to know his walk,” said Lyaness Batista-Bennett. “I saw his walk and it like instantly brought that feeling of Holy crap its him.”
The staff and the customers knew enough to follow him and call Olean Police. Police found him at Boardman Park.
“In his mind, he had just decided he was gonna go out and be independent,” said Sgt. Jason Hlasnick, and investigator with the Olean Police Department. “He said he had heard people calling for him and he did see posters but he just wasn’t ready to go home.”
For 13 days, the community searched the city and the nearby woods, but Cole was living off of food from the dumpster at a nearby Country Fair deli. His home, the vacant house and the Wendy’s restaurant were each about a mile apart.
“The community was great about it. They stepped up. They helped,” said Steve Geise, Cole’s father. “It feels amazing that’s all to have him back home, to know that he’s safe. He had some bruises and banged up a little bit but he’ll be alright.”
“We’ve been praying for him and keeping an eye out and Olean is similar to Buffalo, like a community of family,” said Lester White Pigeon, who lives a couple doors away from the vacant house on Adams Street. “We all watch each other.”