More caregivers learn about Project Lifesaver in wake of autistic boy’s death

AVON, Ind. – In the aftermath of Shalom Lawson’s death, Avon’s police and fire departments were flooded with calls and emails about Project Lifesaver.

They heavily publicized the tracking device program when the 8-year-old, who was autistic, disappeared while visiting family in Brownsburg.

“I think this is the greatest fear you can have as a parent, is having a child get out of your home,” said Shannon Denoon, whose son has Down Syndrome.

Denoon is one of more than a dozen parents, still heartbroken about Shalom’s death, who showed up at an informational meeting about Project Lifesaver Monday night.

“I felt like that could’ve been my child,” said Denoon.

In a nightmare like the one Shalom’s family lived this past weekend, Project Lifesaver can provide additional hope of finding them faster.

The national program partners with local first responders to connect caregivers of children and adults with cognitive disorders with wearable trackers.

Each device emits a unique frequency and a tracker can pick up a signal from it one to two miles away, which drastically reduces the time of a more “blind” search.

“For us, as a community, to have something like this, it truly is, has the capability of saving lives and being able to find people before it’s too late,” said assistant chief of police Brian Nugent.

In Hendricks County, the devices, which have a $350 up-front cost, are free for qualifying children and adults who tend to wander.

“Our goal is simply to reach out with these families, let them know this program is available and do everything in our power to facilitate that at absolutely no hassle or cost to them,” said Nugent.

Hendricks County first responders handle battery changes every 60 days and replacing cases and wristbands for free too.

The wearable isn’t just for when the wearer is in Hendricks County. The radio frequency transmitters can be picked up in another county too, as long as a nearby first responder has a tracker.

When families enrolled in the program leave the county for an extended period of time, the Project Lifesaver coordinator, Karen Hendershot, calls ahead to give the visiting county a proactive call with the wearer’s frequency information before they arrive.

No matter where the wearer is, the peace of mind gained by the caregiver relieves some of the burden of caring 24/7 for a person with a cognitive disorder, who tends to wander and is attracted to water.

“You could answer the phone or use the restroom,” said Denoon. “No matter what you try, there’s a possibility they could escape if they really want to. You can’t be with them 24/7 no matter how much you try.”

Other counties also offer the Project Lifesaver program, but many require parents or caregivers to pay at least part.

It’s only available in Hendricks County for free because of grants and donations.

Upcoming fundraisers include a “Touch a Truck” event from 3 to 7 p.m. at the 4-H fairgrounds in Danville Wednesday, June 19.

A 1-mile and 5K run/walk is also set for Saturday, July 22 at 8 a.m., also at the fairgrounds. Click here to register.

For more information about the Hendricks County Project Lifesaver and how to enroll, contact Nugent at bnugent@avongov.org or Hendershot with the Washington Township/Avon Fire Department at khendershot@avonfd.org.