LAS VEGAS (FOX5) -- Last week, a Henderson woman didn’t know where her son was for 14 hours. Vincenzo Paradiso, who has autism, wandered away from his school in North Las Vegas.
Fortunately, he was found. A key piece in the happy ending was the man who first spotted Vincenzo.
Vincenzo’s mom had an opportunity to thank the good Samaritan.
Sal Pina called it luck. But Vincenzo’s mom said it’s much more than that.
His family still trying to piece together how he got from Cheyenne High School to McCarran International Airport. On a map, it’s a 14-mile drive. But his family believes the teen walked up to 25 miles, trying to get back home.
“We retraced his steps, and it's pretty frightening the areas that he went to,” his mother, Stephanie Paradiso, said. “He said that he saw the lights downtown, so we know he was somewhere near the hotel area.”
Stephanie said he needs extra care so he lives at a center in North Las Vegas and goes to school nearby. But on Thursday, he wanted to see his parents and started walking across the valley.
“He said a man asked him what he was doing at some point,” she said. “And he told him, ‘I'm going to Henderson. I’m going home.’”
North Las Vegas police said officers safely found an autistic 16-year-old boy who was reported missing on Thursday.
His family believes he wandered around without any food. He told them when he got thirsty, picked up a bottle of water on the side of the road.
“It’s shocking he made it that far,” Stephanie said. “Then for someone to actually find him. You are literally my superhero for life.”
She got to thank Pina in person. Around 2 a.m. Friday, Sal was driving home and got off the 215 freeway when he spotted the teen.
“Halfway through the tunnel, I see someone walking through it which was really weird,” he said.
At first he didn’t think to stop, but something in his gut kept tugging.
“I get to the end of the tunnel and I'm like, 'Sal, just pull over. That's him. That has to be him,'” Sal said.
Sal works with Vincenzo’s dad so he had heard the teen was missing and saw it on social media.
“When I pulled over to give it a second thought, I double checked the Facebook post and was like, 'that's him,'” he said.
When Sal stopped the teen, Vincenzo didn’t want to get into a stranger’s car. So Sal followed him to make sure he was safe until he could call police and Vincenzo’s dad.
“I don't think that I'm a hero,” he said. “Anyone else, I like to think they'd do the same thing.”
But Vincenzo’s mom disagreed.
“Grateful isn't even a word that can encompass what it means to me that you went the extra mile to get my son, keep him in your sight,” she told Sal. “I could never -- I could never truly express it. I'm so grateful. Thank you so much. Thank you.”
Vincenzo’s mom said he is still traumatized, but they hope to get back to a routine soon.
She still has a lot of questions for CCSD. She requested an emergency meeting with his school to find out why no one told her, her son was missing for five hours.
FOX5 reached out to CCSD. The school district said it had no new comment on Monday.