Hemet Eye News organizes community search party for missing Hemet boy
■ John Strangis / Reporter, OnScene.TV Photojournalist
A 12-year-old-boy diagnosed with autism, ADHD and bipolar disorder ran away from home the evening of Jan. 27th at approximately 5:30 p.m. His mother, Analilia Benitez Garcia, desperately drove all over town searching for her son but was unable to locate him.
She reported her son missing to Hemet Police and while officers began to search for the boy, the mother also turned to local media group Hemet Eye News for help, hoping that enough people in the community would be made aware of the situation, and increase the possibility of her son being found as soon as possible.
Just before this all occurred, Eddie George (known by followers of Hemet Eye News as “The Crazy Guy with The Lazy Eye”) was contemplating whether to keep Hemet Eye News’ doors open or return to work as a commercial truck driver, a job Eddie was engaged in before his health issues made it extremely difficult, if not impossible, for him to continue driving for a living.
Eddie George started Hemet Eye News as an online Facebook group and YouTube channel designed to bring the Hemet community local news reports, business advertising, humor, and as a way to help people in need. The emphasis on the “eye” in Hemet Eye News is paramount because, as Eddie said, “the eye not only signifies the amblyopia (lazy eye) of Eddie’s right eye, but also is a symbol for the eyes of the community, being that Hemet Eye News is as Eddie stated, “community news made for the community and by the community.”
When Eddie decided to close the group, a local business, San Jacinto Auto Sales, decided to step in and sponsor Eddie and Hemet Eye News. The owners of this new business believed that Hemet Eye News does too much good for the community and that allowing the group to close was not something they wanted to see.
Because of the sponsorship from San Jacinto Auto Sales, Hemet Eye News continued on and with good timing, considering what happened the following day.
The mother of the missing 12-year-old contacted Hemet Eye News for help, and the media group’s top three, Eddie George, Laurie Cain and John Strangis, began to take action to help locate the boy. While Hemet Police diligently searched for the child around the city with patrols and bloodhounds, Eddie George and Laurie Cain began to stream a live video report on the Hemet News Facebook group, explaining the situation to the community and asking anyone willing to come together and form a search party to assist with finding the boy.
The community did indeed come together and formed a search party that went door-to-door and business-to-business, handing out flyers and doing everything they could to help.
Tony Iverson of Chamangos in San Jacinto, a smoothie and aguas frescas store, has had a bit of bad luck lately with vandals breaking his windows. However, he did not let that deter him when faced with the task of helping find the lost boy and he allowed his store to be used as the command center for the search team. Hemet Councilwoman Karlee Meyer saw the event streamed live on Facebook and she immediately came down to Acacia Middle School to help as well.
James Kay of Hemet Buy Sell/Trade group on Facebook was able to recruit search members with off-road vehicles to search the nearby riverbeds for the missing boy.
Even people watching the live stream from Perris, Riverside, Temecula and surrounding areas came to Hemet to assist. The search continued all night and early morning, but the child was nowhere to be found.
As officers and community members continued the search, John Strangis (reporter for Hemet Eye News and photojournalist for renowned news stringer company OnScene.TV, who was deep in Ontario hunting for mainstream media news footage), began heading back to Hemet as quickly as he could after hearing that the search for the boy continued. Strangis was hoping that perhaps he could get footage aired on morning news that could help locate the child more quickly.
By noon the next day, the boy was finally found walking around on the street. A local citizen, Mary Tello, recognized him and he was immediately reunited with his mother, who was relieved to have finally found her son. She was extremely grateful to Hemet Police Department and Hemet Eye News, but even more grateful to all the community members who came together to look for her little boy.
This story shows what power the community has if people unite together for the greater good and help each other out in times of need, something that today isn’t seen often. It also shows how important it is for local community-oriented media to exist, and how important it is for media, police, fire and emergency services to cooperate together for the benefit of the people.
Some of us are journalists, photojournalists, police officers, firefighters, emergency responders, etc, but when it comes down to the basics, we are all community members. All of us should be there for each other and cooperate together. Transparency between the community, law enforcement and fire is paramount, as are good relationships between neighbors, whether they live in the home beside yours, your neighboring city or state; regardless of race, age, social status, etc.
This is a story that although rough, came to a happy ending. A missing child was found, Hemet Eye News was saved, a new business in town immediately showed how much they care for their community and the citizens came together to show what can happen if we all cooperate for the greater good. And that is why Hemet Eye News continues in its quest to report local news, crime, and reviews local businesses: to keep the community informed and strong through their word-of-mouth promotions. One way or another, this community will unite together. Nobody can say the crazy guy with the lazy eye doesn’t have a big heart.