CHESAPEAKE, Va. (WAVY) – A new law that took effect Thursday, sponsored by Del. Cliff Hayes (D-Chesapeake), closes a gap in the alert system to cover missing adults with autism.
Better known as the Jamile Hill Law for Justice, it extends an alert system already in place for children with autism, and covers situations where the Amber Alert and Ashanti Billie Alert systems would not apply.
“[Seeing the measure become law] was bittersweet,” said Jamile’s mother Shawn Eure-Wilson. “I had a lot of tears. I just kept thinking this is so the right thing to do.” She wanted her daughter’s life to mean something, to help someone.
Eure-Wilson teamed up with family friend and lawmaker Hayes to create an alert system for missing adults with autism when there is no foul play involved.
Jamile was 29 when she wandered off from her Chesapeake home last October. She drowned in a swampy area off Bainbridge Boulevard less than a mile away.
“When Jamile went missing, I was told that she aged out [of the alert system] and I was just completely appalled,” Eure-Wilson said about her initial efforts to get some sort of alert issued for a missing person. “I said she didn’t age out of being autistic, she didn’t age out of disabilities, and I said I don’t want another parent to feel what I felt.”
The new alert system will help thousands of families in Hampton Roads.
“We are elated and over the moon, because things like this don’t just happen every session every day. It helps the families tremendously,” said Arketa Howard, a member of the advocacy committee for the Autism Society, Tidewater Virginia.
Therapist Alfred Howard works with adults and children with autism. He says for some a tendency to wander is just another piece of the puzzle.
“There may be a tendency to react impulsively to something, to be anxious about something, or simply to wander. So that’s a very real risk and concern for many families living with persons with autism.”
Jamile was a college honor student with a degree, was involved with Special Olympics, and volunteered to help others. “She was very dedicated to children of all abilities – she loved children,” said Nicole Miller, chapter operations manager for the Autism Society.
When Gov. Ralph Northam signed the bill into law, he was already familiar with Jamile’s case. As a doctor, he treated Jamile as a pediatric neurologist. The system took effect July 1.