Missing Md. Boy's Case Ends In Reunion

The family of 9-year-old Basith Akinola Salami expressed relief at his safe homecoming. Salami was found less than two blocks from home after running away because he did not complete a science project. Video by Hamil Harris/The Washington Post
By Avis Thomas-Lester and Hamil R. Harris
Washington Post Staff Writers
Thursday, October 23, 2008

Nine-year-old Basith Akinola Salami was playing around with friends in class when he was supposed to be working on a science project, a transgression his teacher reported to his mother in a phone call.

Hours later, about 2:30 p.m. Tuesday, Basith thought about that call when he got off the school bus in his Springdale neighborhood. Rather than face his parents, he ran into the woods and hid overnight as the temperature dropped to 41 degrees. He was found 18 hours later after a massive police search.

"I am never going to do that again," Basith said yesterday, looking down sheepishly during an interview.

Basith, a fourth-grader at Judge Sylvania W. Woods Elementary School, was found about 8:30 a.m. yesterday in a wooded area less than two blocks from his home. He had slept in the woods and had gone without water or food, except for a small snack he had stashed in his bag, since lunchtime Tuesday.

Maryland State Police, who are responsible for issuing the Amber Alert broadcasts about missing children, did not post one for Basith because his case did not meet the criteria, said spokeswoman Elena Russo. Amber Alerts are issued only when children are believed to have been abducted and in danger of serious injury or death.

Even so, authorities immediately began a search. "We had canines out there. We had bloodhounds. We had aerial support from aviation units. The Maryland State Police's Child Recovery Unit was out," said Henry Tippett, a Prince George's County police spokesman.

Tippett said investigators interviewed Basith's bus driver and learned that the boy had gotten off the bus at his regular stop Tuesday.

His disappearance came just one day after a Falls Church woman was accused of kidnapping a 4-year-old boy from a Fairfax County grocery store Sunday. The child was found safe.

Basith was found after Patricia Faircloth, a resident of the area, told police that her son had seen a boy matching Basith's description while walking home from school Tuesday afternoon. Faircloth said she had seen reports about Basith on the news.

"When my son, Leon, was leaving for school, I told him to be safe because there was a boy missing in the neighborhood," Faircloth recalled. "He told me he had seen a little boy near a pond in the neighborhood who was wearing a blue hooded jacket and was carrying a backpack."

After Faircloth dropped her son off at Charles Herbert Flowers High School, where he is a freshman, she made her way to a command post near where police were searching. She told officers what Leon had seen, and searchers found Basith about 15 minutes later -- anxious, hungry and thirsty, but unharmed.

His return was a cause for celebration at home, where friends and relatives welcomed him with hugs and kisses.

"I feel really great. All things go to almighty God," said Olalekan Salami, the child's father. "I am so grateful to have my son back. We had a sleepless night since yesterday."

Salami said he was surprised that his son would be afraid to come home. He and the boy's mother, Khadijat, spent yesterday making sure Basith knew how much they had missed him.

The Salamis emigrated from Nigeria and attend a mosque that is part of the Prince George's Muslim Association in Lanham. Olalekan Salami said that from the moment his son went missing, his family and friends prayed for his return.

Standing in front of his home yesterday, Basith sipped bottled water and held on to his mother. "I am just happy," Khadijat Salami said. "I prayed all night."

Leon, who smiled when asked whether he felt like a hero, said he was glad to have helped Basith find his way home. He said he and the friends he was walking with did not approach the boy when they saw him because they didn't realize he was missing.

"I didn't want to startle him," he said. "He was lying in the grass playing. I didn't even see his face, but he didn't seem upset. I'm glad he's okay."

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