Dad Turns Back & Autistic Teen Disappears—12 Hrs Later, Neighbor Notices His Shed Looks Unusual


For father, John Barbella, spending even a minute away from his autistic son Joseph can seem like an eternity.

So whenever he turned his back ‘for a second’ to discover that the 16-year-old had wandered out the front door in the middle of a vicious storm known as a nor’easter—needless to say, John was panicked.

After about twelve hours passed, nerves continued to rise as the 16-year-old’s father and mother (who was also battling cancer) feared the worst.

Knowing the limitations his autism imposed, they worried what the fierce winds and relentless downpour could do to their son both physically and mentally. With the power to take out power lines and snap oak trees in half, Joseph certainly wouldn’t stand a fighting chance out there for long.

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Thankfully, an intuitive neighbor named Michael was on high alert when he awoke and learned of the missing teen.

Upon taking a glance at his shed, Michael realized it bore an unusual resemblance to a clubhouse. After watching a documentary on autism recently, he recalled that people with the condition often liked to find hiding places. On a “hunch” Michael decided to check inside his shed to see if the teen may have been using it as a safe haven.

Sure enough, when he opened the door, he found Joshua curled up sleeping on the floor, using only a golf bag and toys as his pillow.

As soon as the Barbellas got the news that their son had been found in good health, they were completely overwhelmed with gratitude for the heroic stranger with a killer gut instinct.

“So filled with joy and just wanting to run to where the location is,” said John, recalling the moment Joshua was found. “My son is with me all the time. We do everything together, so a minute apart is tough.”

Michael has been hailed a hero in his Long Island hometown and was even presented with an honorable ‘key to the town’ by officials, but the humble neighbor is not one to pat himself on the back.

“I’m very flattered to be called a hero,” says Michael. “But I’m just proud and blessed that I was the final piece of the puzzle that helped get this young man home and safe.”

See more from this inspiring hero story in the CBS News interview below, and be sure to share it with your friends on Facebook! 

Kelsey Straeter
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Kelsey is an editor at Outreach. She’s passionate about fear fighting, freedom writing, and the pursuit of excellence in the name of crucifying perfectionism. Glitter is her favorite color, 2nd only to pink, and 3rd only to pink glitter.