WASHINGTON COUNTY, Ore. -- A frantic 9-1-1 call from the family of a missing autistic child ended with a happy ending Sunday when a Washington County deputy and his K-9 partner rescued the little boy from a fast-moving creek.
Emergency responders said the boy could have suffered hypothermia or been swept under the waters if the K-9 team had not found him in time.
"This is one where, if we wouldn't have found him, what could have happened?" said Deputy Daniel DiPietro, a K-9 handler with the Washington County Sheriff's Office.
Washington County deputies received a 9-1-1 call about the missing 8-year-old Sunday evening. Multiple deputies responded to the Cedar Hills neighborhood, including DiPietro and his K-9 partner, Maverick.
DiPietro led the search for the boy in a steep, heavily wooded area nearby.
"For me it was tough, so I can't even imagine what it was like for him going through that," he said, explaining the difficult search terrain.
On a hunch, DiPietro headed toward Ward Creek, at the bottom of the hill.
"That's what I knew they're attracted to - (what) autistic children are attracted to," he said. DiPietro said all Washington County deputies receive training on tactics to search for children with autism.
At that point, Maverick picked up the scent.
"I just give a command: I say "track." That's when he puts his nose down and he starts looking for that fresh human scent," DiPietro said.
Toward the bottom of the hill, the pair spotted the boy playing - the water up to his thighs - in the creek.
DiPietro said, "I called him out by his name and he kind of looked at me with a little suspicious look like 'What are you doing here?"
While the boy didn't appear alarmed, DiPietro said he was soaking wet, shivering, and moving up creek where the waters moved more swiftly.
"That was my fear," he said, pointing to creek. "When I actually got to him, he was right where the water's more swift up top there."
By this point DiPietro had tied Maverick to a tree, careful not to alarm the boy more, and proceeded to pull the 8-year-old out of the water. He handed the boy over to deputies waiting in the wings for the child.
Deputies said the boy, all 4 feet 1 inches tall and 46 pounds, could have suffered from hypothermia or have been swept under the current had the pair not tracked him down in time.
"It was pretty rewarding to be honest - to be able to see my dog, do what he's trained to do," DiPietro said. "It was the most rewarding thing to be able to find him and make sure he got home safe."
The boy was not injured and has been reunited with his family.
KATU tried reaching the family but they did not want to speak with the media.
According to the Sheriff's Office website, Deputy DiPietro joined the Sheriff's Office in 2006 and became a member of the K-9 Unit in 2010. His partner, Maverick, is a German Shepherd. The team is dually certified to support regular patrol searches as well as narcotics detection. Maverick is an aggressive alert dog, which means that he will either scratch, bite, or bark at an odor of narcotics when he alerts.