Orem Police Department
Orem police are looking for 14-year-old David Vasquez, who has autism.

OREM — A 14-year-old boy diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder was found safe Wednesday after he had been missing for 21 hours.

Orem police reported just after 5 p.m. that David Vasquez had been found. He was last seen about 8 p.m. Tuesday near 1100 South and 200 East in Orem.

After being reunited with his family, David told police and his family he had been walking much of the time he was missing, eventually ending up in Provo.

Orem Police Lt. Craig Martinez said David was dropped off at an LDS Church meetinghouse at that address for a church function. But he called his mother a short time later from the church saying no one was there and asked if she could come get him, Martinez said. The mother, however, didn't get the message for an hour. By the time she got to the church, David was gone, Martinez said.

David is considered a high-functioning autistic boy, Martinez said. Because the church is more than a dozen blocks away from his home, investigators were concerned he became lost while trying to walk home.

In fact, David had befriended another boy in the area, and together they had started walking, family members said. They ended up at the other boy's house, spending the night in the garage before heading to a mall in Provo on Wednesday morning where they snacked on free samples.

"We just stuck together, side by side," David said Wednesday. "I was trying to find the best way home."

While looking at headphones at the mall, a member of David's church spotted him and contacted police.

David recalled feeling frightened as he walked through unfamiliar "sketchy" areas of town and as a thunderstorm pounded overhead while he slept in the garage. All that went away when he saw his mother, however.

"I was so relieved. I was so excited," he said, turning and hugging his mother. "I love you, Mom."

Adrianna Vasquez wept as she returned the embrace.

"I love you too, son. I'm so grateful that you're back," she said.

For David, the experience was a small adventure. For his mother, who missed her son's call while she was bathing, the night was terrifying.

"I thought I was never going to find him. I'm so lucky," Adrianna Vasquez said. "We had all of our church members searching for him all over, and the police did such a great job trying to find him. … I'm so grateful we got him back."

David has gone missing in his neighborhood before but has always been found quickly nearby, she said.

Police face specific challenges when autistic children go missing, Martinez said. They may not understand they're missing, offer their name if asked or want to be found.

"He was just hanging out with a buddy. He could have done this for days," Martinez said.

The other boy was not reported missing, Martinez said. Family members of the other boy believed David was a classmate who had come to spend the night, and when the two left in the morning, they believed the boys were heading to school.