Autistic Boy Saves Family From Fire, but Dies

fireWhen Alex Swigart, a 12-year-old boy with autism, smelled smoke in his Arizona home in the middle of the night, he acted like a hero. He went and woke his father, who got everyone out of the house. Everyone was okay, and it would have been a wonderful story if it had ended there. Unfortunately, it didn't.

For some unexplained reason, the boy ran back into the mobile home. By the time firefighters arrived, it was engulfed in flames, and they couldn't rescue the boy who had just rescued his family. He died.

His father, Joseph Swigart, said he must have gotten confused by all the chaos as he himself ran to get a hose. He told KGUN:

I realized at the time he wasn't there. By the time I got back up on the porch, fire engulfed the living room. I ran around the side of the house. I tried to go inside. I had four Border Patrol men grab me and drag me back to the road. They wouldn't let me go back inside.

I yelled inside the window and I heard him say, "Daddy I can't breathe!"

My heart aches for this family and their loss. Sadly, there are thousands of other families out there who lose autistic children when they get confused or disoriented and wander off into all sorts of dangerous situations

I see the headlines weekly -- autistic man or woman, teen, or toddler has gone missing. Last month in Australia, a 7-year-old autistic boy was struck by a train and killed after wandering away from his home. Right now in Canada, a search was called off yesterday for a 3-year-old autistic boy who has been missing more than three days.

When asked to comment on the pressing problem of autistic children wandering and being confused by their environment, Veronica Fraser, whose 7-year-old autistic son, James Delorey, died two years ago after wandering away from his home, told The Vancouver Sun: "It's really unpredictable where they're going to be. You have to think of them as a cross between someone with Alzheimer's and someone escaping from jail."

There are various electronic bracelets and other methods to help ensure the safety of autistic individuals, but in the case of this fire and the ensuing confusion, there's likely little that would have helped. But it's an important story to tell if for no other reason than to continue to bring awareness to the disease and the challenges it presents in the lives of those affected. Best wishes to this family as they heal and mourn their hero.

If you have an autistic child, has he or she ever wandered away or into a dangerous situation?


Image via Editor B/Flickr

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amber... amberpaiz

my prayers go out to this family this is so sad

PoeDu... PoeDunkMae

My thoughts are with the family!

Saras... Sarasahmof3

I know the fear that the dad felt.  Just last October someone set a fire that gutted a townhouse just 2 doors down from ours, they are connected.  We were getting the kids out of the house and into the car when my eldest disappeared.  It was only moment and the neighbor found him safe and sound behind his car.  But the panic and fear still haunts me today.  We were lucky no one was hurt, and the next day everyone in our row of townhouse were allowed home.  I feel for the family.

Proud... ProudSingleMum

Before I got to your last paragraph I was going to ask if there was some sort of bracelet or somehting tha tcould be used. Again, in this case it wouldn't have worked, but in the others....it seems like it would be worth it.

Chads... Chadsgirl35

So sad. Poor little guy.

nonmember avatar Jennifer

My 7 year old son is autistic, and this is by far weighs heavier on me than anything else. I appreciate that the other commenters didn't just ask why the parents weren't watching them closer, etc.

Just tonight he jumped out the window... again. They're very smart and sneaky and wait for you to be distracted. No parent is capable of watching them close enough to prevent this.

My husband redid all the screens with thick rabbit-cage wire, he kicked through that too. We take every precaution we can think of, but there's no guarantee.

We looked into a gps bracelet. I couldn't get the time of day from the people in charge of it. They were used to working with dementia patients, they just didn't get it. Anyway, we learned the bracelet still had a very limited range. We're moving soon and getting him a medic alert bracelet. There's also the issue that some autistic kids simply wouldn't wear the bracelet.

Wish2Be Wish2Be

OMG....thats so heart wrenching....Poor Alex :(


His family must be suffering greatly for their loss. My heart goes out to them too...

ZsMommy ZsMommy

Luckily our daughter never wandered-but that's not to say we didn't have a tight grip/know where she was at all times/locks out of reach early childhood with having a child on the spectrum.


An autistic boy wandered for 13 hours from a picnic site 10 minutes from our home-what made it worse was the fact this boy was attending a day camp FOR autistic children. Luckily he was found unharmed-but he had to travel alongside a river and  cross a working railroad to get where he ended up. My daughter (who is HFA) still knows at almost 11 to stay within site when we're out-Autistic kids tend to focus on something and that fixation will lead to wandering at times-completely not intentional-just follow their interest and if no one is paying attention-it's horrible.

LadyS... LadySaphira

How terrible, my heart goes out to the family. My son is on the spectrum but has never wandered off thankfully. Jennifer is right on the money about ASD kid, they are often crafty little buggers who will find all kinds of way to attain their goal, whether be get outside or get their hands on something they are not supposed to touch.

RaeTy RaeTy

this is one of my worst fears... my son is a "runner" there has been a few close calls. but nothing to the extent of this poor family.  those tracking bracelets do help. BUT the one we have only has a range of 200 yards. and my son can run that in about 2 secs.

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