A tender moment between a California police officer and a man with autism has gone viral on social media.
On the morning of May 8, Rohnert Park, California police officers, Sgt. Jerrod Marshall and Officer Justin Thompson received a call from a concerned mother who reported that her son had gone missing.
Diane Grumley, 56 of Rohnert Park, California, told the officers that she was getting ready to take her other son to work when she realized 31-year-old Lance, who is on the autism spectrum, had left the house without her knowing and was missing.
“At first I wasn’t worried,” Grumley told TODAY in an interview, explaining that Lance was trying to be more independent.
However, she said she became very worried after she drove up and down the nearby path, but still couldn’t find him.
That’s when she decided to call the Rohnert Park police department, knowing that they would be able to find her son.
Sgt. Marshall said Grumley sounded upset on the phone because she was “pretty nervous that (her son) was lost.”
Sgt. Marshall told TODAY that he and Officer Thompson began their search in the park near Grumley’s home. Sgt. Marshall searched on foot while Officer Thompson rode his motorcycle.
While riding through the park, Officer Thompson said he was flagged down by a pedestrian who said she had spotted Lance on a nearby path.
With the helpful tip, Officer Thompson quickly found Lance who, according to Sgt. Marshall was “huddled and scared-looking.”
“His body language ... He was flailing his arms a bit. It was hard for him to communicate,” Officer Thompson explained.
They were able to speak briefly and Officer Thompson said Lance kept telling him, “I want to see my mom.”
The two eventually settled into a hug.
“I had to (keep) holding him tighter because I didn’t want him to run away (again),” Officer Thompson said.
Sgt. Marshall said he was touched by the act of kindness and decided to take the now viral photo.
“It was a pretty tender moment,” said Sgt. Marshall. “This is why we do this job,” he added.
Officer Thompson mirrored Sgt. Marshall’s thoughts about the simple act of kindness.
“It was pretty sweet,” Officer Thompson said. “It was a special moment for sure. He sort of sank into (the hug).”
Rohnert Park police Chief Tim Mattos told TODAY that all of his officers receive crisis intervention training, which includes discussion on working with residents who have autism.
Officer Thompson is also a leader in the department’s peer support group, which provides ongoing support for officers within the agency.
“To have Justin be the one ... He was the right person at the time, in the right place. How much he cares for people ... He understands the little things it takes to do this job,” Chief Mattos said.
In total, the search for Lance lasted between 20 and 30 minutes.
Grumley told TODAY she was elated when she received the call from the Rohnert Park police department, saying they had found Lance.
“I was just really relieved and so thankful,” Grumley said. “I felt safe and Lance felt safe.”
The heartwarming photo has struck a chord on social media, with hundreds of comments flooding in from across the country.
One commenter, April Burnett wrote, “You are an amazing person. This is clearly more than a job for you. It’s a true calling. Thank you for the compassion that you have shown this man and his worried mother.”
Julie Kraus, also a mother, commented, “Thank you so much. As a mom of 2 young men with autism, I appreciate your compassion very much.”
Wanting to thank Sgt. Marshall and Officer Thompson, Grumley and Lance stopped by the department on Monday with a handwritten thank-you note.
“It’s sweet,” Officer Thompson said about the card. “It is hanging up in my office right now.”
Officer Thompson told TODAY that he’s a little embarrassed by all the attention he’s received, but is happy the photo of his and Lance’s embrace has resonated with so many people.
“(I’m) glad people are encouraged by the photo and that it’s been well received when we all kind of need hope in the country,” Officer Thompson said.