‘Such a beautiful person’: Mum of missing autistic teen Will Callaghan speaks out

Jun 10, 2020
Will's mum Penny Callaghan addressed reporters on Wednesday. Source: Twitter/7News.

The search is ramping up today for Melbourne teenager William Callaghan who went missing on Mount Disappointment in Victoria on Monday. The 14-year-old, who has non-verbal autism, disappeared whilst hiking towards the summit with family members.

More than 450 people, including a large number of volunteers, have been searching the dense bushland in a bid to find the missing boy. On Wednesday morning, as the search entered day three, Will’s mum Penny Callaghan addressed reporters and thanked “amazing and inspiring” volunteers and emergency services for their efforts.

“Sometimes being a mum of an autistic child is really tough,” she told reporters on Wednesday. “Will is my eldest son and he would be considered, I guess, very low-functioning. He has an intellectual disability and he’s very smart in his own way.

“I’m feeling positive because he’s quite resilient. He is very skinny. You know, he doesn’t have much padding on him, but he eats all the time, he’s always on the move. He’s very active … he’s not a great sleeper, that may be good for him in this instance.”

Penny also described her eldest son as a “very gentle, beautiful person” but pointed out that William is also “very vulnerable”.

“If he has reached the urban environment at this point, he will look out of place,” Penny added. “He’s wearing navy blue, I am hoping he still has his clothes on. He may be barefoot though, he doesn’t like shoes. He will probably be covering his ears a fair bit if there is loud noise.

“He’s going to be pretty hungry and scared, so food is going to be a main driver for him at this point. He will be seeking food.”

Personalised techniques have been employed as part of the search effort, with police and volunteers using smells and familiar sounds to try and attract Will’s attention rather than more traditional methods. For example the Thomas the Tank Engine theme tune, which is one of Will’s favourite songs, is being played via three loudspeaker systems, while the teenager’s former teacher has been brought in in the hope her voice may draw him in.

Acting Inspector Christine Lalor said police are “throwing everything” at the search and rescue effort and also asked locals to leave food and water out on their verandahs if possible, suggesting the likes of vegemite or feta cheese as foods William is known to like. “He loves the smell of, and will be attracted to, barbecue with onion or bacon. If anyone has capability to do that, that would be great,” she added.

Senior Sergeant Greg Paul also addressed the media this morning and described the situation as “life-threatening”. He said: “There’s no sugar coating it, this is life-threatening. This is actually very dangerous weather, it’s down to zero, perhaps sub-zero.”

On Tuesday Victoria Police issued a statement in which they described William as “very energetic”, leading them to believe he could have covered a lot of distance on his own since wandering off from his family members.

“He’s also very food focused. It would not be out of the question for William to walk into a house and go to the fridge or cupboard and help himself to food,” the statement continued. “He might also try to put himself to bed. So we are asking residents nearby and in the vicinity of Mount Disappointment to check bedrooms and outhouses and to contact Triple Zero (000) immediately if they sight William.”

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