Group pushes for autism alert awareness after caregiver lies about missing man

Mar 8, 2024, 11:44 AM

MURRAY — A family is speaking out after a caregiver, who lied about the disappearance of their autistic son, was recently sentenced in 3rd District Court for losing the nonverbal man overnight last summer.

The ordeal has led to a huge push by an organization for alert system awareness, and launching a webpage to help parents.

Family walks are a favorite for the Lyons.

Kara Walker-Lyon, her husband Blair, and 23-year-old son Jarrett often stroll along the Jordan River Parkway in the Murray area.

Jarrett, who is nonverbal, doesn’t fully understand everything that’s around him. He mostly communicates through sound and hand signals.

“He’s a full-grown man, but he’s sort of like having an eternal 3-year-old,” Walker-Lyon said, with a laugh.

Last July, Walker-Lyon became frantic after Jarrett walked off and disappeared. She and Blair had no idea where Jarrett had gone and knew he’d have no way to get help.

The community helped the Lyons launch a search, and Walker-Lyon explained how overwhelming the operation became.

She had to create a missing flyer and coordinate a grid search.

“Hundreds of people were looking up and down the parkway,” she said, talking about the Jordan River Parkway.

His day program caregiver from the business Primary Support Services lost Jarrett, at first saying she had last seen him at his group home in West Jordan when she dropped him off.

The area between the group home and the Lyons’ home is where the community spent all their time and energy searching through the entire night.

“It was so horrible,” Walker-Lyon said, getting choked up with tears welling in her eyes. “I wouldn’t wish that on anyone.”

Jarrett Lyon walks with his parents, Blair and Kara Walker-Lyon, on the Jordan River Trail (KSL TV)

Come to find out from charging documents, that caregiver Keili Vahai lied about where and how Jarrett went missing.

It turned out that she had taken Jarrett to her home in Taylorsville, and Jarrett disappeared from there.

It prolonged an already desperate and confusing situation.

“We were just at that point so emotional, too, and so distraught,” Walker-Lyon said. “And not knowing what to do, or who to believe, or where to look. He was just gone.”

Walker-Lyon said Vahai found Jarrett the next day and charging documents state she lied again about where she had found him.

Jarrett was dehydrated, no longer wearing a shirt or shoes, and his backpack was missing.

“We probably will never know exactly how he spent his night alone out in the dark,” Walker-Lyon said.

Vahai was sentenced last Friday to 100 days of community service after pleading guilty to a charge of intentional abuse or neglect of a vulnerable adult.

Recently, the Autism Council of Utah launched a webpage in hopes of making sure both families and law enforcement have all the tools before and during a search.

“I hope the list will help parents so that we don’t ever have to go through that sort of thing, or at least we have a hope that we can find our kid and that they’ll be safe,” said Cheryl Smith with the Autism Council of Utah. “We don’t have to feel so hopeless.”

Smith explained that the list includes what parents of kids and adults with autism should do ahead of time — designate a picture of their child, write down a description of them and contact information, etc. — and what they need to do immediately after someone goes missing.

She included how parents can launch a search, and what volunteers can do.

Smith also listed off what types of alerts parents can push police to activate, like the Amber Alert, EMA Alert and Silver Alert.

“There is a Silver Alert for older folks, but it can be used for vulnerable people who aren’t elderly,” Smith explained. “So, we could have actually used the Silver Alert on Jared if the officers would have done that.”

While that could have helped Walker-Lyon she’s still thankful that Jarrett was found.

“So overwhelmingly grateful for all of the support and help we received,” she said, of all the volunteers plus the messages and prayers she said she received from people around the world.

Walker-Lyon is hopeful if someone else’s loved one walks off, they’ll have the resources to quickly bring them home.

“He would not have had to suffer alone all night by himself,” she said. “And I don’t want that to ever happen to another family.”

The Lyons right after reuniting with their son Jarrett last July. (Photo courtesy: Cheryl Smith)

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Group pushes for autism alert awareness after caregiver lies about missing man