A Hempstead Town communications employee was awarded a key to the town Wednesday after he found a missing teenager sleeping in his Franklin Square shed during the nor’easter early this week.
Joseph Barbella, 16, who has autism, had been missing for about 12 hours during the height of the storm that stretched from Monday into Tuesday, his father, John Barbella, said during a news conference Wednesday.
The town employee, Mike Caputo, said he heard police helicopters circling his Franklin Square neighborhood on Tuesday morning before he left for work. He checked the television news but found nothing about the police presence, Caputo said. He then texted a neighbor, who said Joseph was missing. Caputo remembered a TV program he’d seen that said people with autism often seek hiding places.
On a hunch as he was picking up trash bins that had blown around his yard during the nor’easter, Caputo checked his backyard shed and found Joseph sleeping on the floor.
“I think he must have been using my golf bag as a pillow,” Caputo said.
Caputo covered Joseph with a blanket and called 911.
“I didn’t want to startle him,” Caputo said. “I didn’t want him to run away.”
Town Supervisor Anthony Santino, Councilman Bruce Blakeman and Assemb. Edward P. Ra (R-Franklin Square) honored Caputo on Wednesday and called him a hero.
Franklin Square’s online community also mobilized to find Joseph.
“It seemed like everybody I was Facebook friends with” was sharing information about him, Ra said.
“I’m just proud and blessed that I was the final piece of the puzzle,” said Caputo, who lives a few blocks from the Barbella family.
John Barbella, standing next to his son at the news conference outside Caputo’s home, thanked Caputo and the police officers who helped the family search for hours. Joseph, an avid football fan who plays soccer and basketball, said “I feel good” and “thank you for the help” on Wednesday.
“He’s a very lucky kid,” Barbella said. “He’s with me all the time. ... We do everything together. A minute apart is tough.”