Just one pre-dawn look on Thursday at a photo of a missing teen, especially vulnerable due to his autism diagnosis, police say, was crucial for an alert and kind bus manager.
Bryan Mahoney, a service quality manager with Transdev, the private firm that runs the Nassau Inter-County Express bus system, spotted the boy, according to police, several hours later sitting on a bench outside the Rosa Parks Hempstead Transit Center.
“He had this happy, smiling face; something about him made me want to look at my phone, and I saw the poster; it looked like it was him,” Mahoney said.
Daniel Velez, 16, who might have been trying to visit Coney Island, had been missing from his Lakeview home since Wednesday at 10:45 a.m., Nassau police said in an alert.
Wednesday night was unusually cold for early April, with the low at MacArthur Airport hitting 40 degrees, according to the Upton-based National Weather Service.
Daniel, who is 5-foot-5 and weighs about 260 pounds, was wearing a black North Face jacket, a multicolored Jordan beanie and Jordan sneakers, gray sweatpants and a green shirt, police said.
“I asked him if he was Daniel, and he said ‘Yes,’ so I asked him to come inside,” said Mahoney, who saw the missing-person poster when he checked his work email at about 3:30 a.m. His shift starts at 5 a.m., and he identified the teen nearly three hours later.
Police flyers often are distributed to transportation hubs, which can be magnets for runaway children.
“He was in good shape, in good spirits, a happy person,” said Mahoney, who invited the boy into his office while he had the bus company’s command center call the authorities.
“I asked him if he was hungry; he said ‘Yes,’ and I ran out to the coffee shop and got him a coffee and a buttered roll, which he ate.”
While they waited, it became clear the child wished to top his breakfast off with one more item.
“He really wanted something else; he asked me if I could get him some Sour Patch Kids candy, which I did. He seemed to like them,” Mahoney said.
Nassau’s Missing Person’s Squad arrived a short time later with an ambulance to evaluate the teen’s condition — and then his mother arrived, he said.
“She was a little overwhelmed,” recounted Mahoney. “You know, she was really glad to see him, and she hugged him.”
The potential danger the teen might have encountered was not a factor Mahoney dismissed lightly.
“I’m just glad that he got back to his family; being an autistic person, he’s challenged. Even though he has this sunny disposition, he’s out in public — and he’s only a minor child.”