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Lindenhurst family mourns autistic teen's drowning

Ryan Barrett, 14, had autism and had a

Ryan Barrett, 14, had autism and had a history with seizures. Credit:

It was the trip Lindenhurst teenager Ryan Barrett looked forward to all year. On the annual father-son camping trip to the Catskills, the 14-year-old didn't have to brush his teeth or take baths, and he could just hang out with the guys.

But soon after arriving Thursday at the North-South Lake campground in Haines Falls, Barrett - who had autism and a history of seizures - went to play at a nearby creek and went missing. He was found drowned Friday morning.

New York State Police scuba divers found Barrett facedown in a culvert in 3 feet of water. His parents, in an interview Saturday, said he had suffered a seizure, fallen and drifted downstream.

Barrett had traveled with his father, David Barrett, 43, and his brother, Kevin, 6, to the campground with seven other families. They had been making the trip for years and others in the group accepted Ryan's quirks, his mother said Saturday.

"It was one of the joys of his life. He loved this trip," Mary Ellen Barrett said. "It was what he talked about all year."

After arriving Thursday afternoon, the group started to set up their tents. Ryan Barrett went to play near the shallow creek just 20 yards from the campground, a place where he had played many times before. They noticed him missing about 4:30 p.m., she said.

"He was there one minute and gone the next," David Barrett said.

Members of the group immediately began searching for the teen and called State Police, he said.

Mary Ellen Barrett had stayed home in Lindenhurst with the couple's six other children. But after an agonizing wait for news, she and a friend left at 4 a.m. for the campground southwest of Albany. Meanwhile, friends set up an Internet prayer chain from Long Island to England.

The mother arrived at the campground around 8 a.m. Friday to join the frantic search. According to State Police Investigator William Fitzmaurice, police divers found Ryan's body about two hours later in the culvert, which feeds into North Lake.

Suzanne Reek, president of the Nassau Suffolk chapter of the Autism Society of America, said seizures and drownings are not uncommon among children with autism.

"Our hearts and prayers go out to the Barrett family," she said.

Ryan Barrett was the oldest of eight children. All have been home schooled by their mother, who writes a blog about raising her family and home schooling them. She also writes a column for the weekly Long Island Catholic newspaper. David Barrett works for C.E. Unterberg Towbin, an investment bank in Manhattan, according to records.

Ryan Barrett had wanted to be a priest, his mother wrote in her blog. He loved Mass and all things associated with the church.

"Other boys dream of becoming a shortstop for the New York Yankees. My autistic son dreamed of conferring sacraments," she wrote.

He loved spending time at the family's church, Our Lady of Perpetual Help in Lindenhurst. On Saturday, the Rev. Anthony Trapani remembered him.

"Everything he did, he loved. He sang in the boys' choir . . . When the song was over, he would take these gracious bows. Everybody else would sheepishly walk off, and Ryan would just bow. He'd bow to the left, to the right and to the center," he said, chuckling.

Then he paused, trying to compose himself. "I cannot imagine that he's dead."

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