Police officer hugs missing man with autism in viral photo

Elise Solé

The compassion of a police officer who found — and hugged — a missing man with autism shines through in a Facebook photo.

Justin Thompson has been an officer for the City of Rohnert Park in California for the past twenty years. He’s also a member of the department’s peer support team, a source of emotional support in traumatic cases. When a local man with autism, and other special needs, went missing, Thompson was one of the first responders.

Police Chief Tim Mattos tells Yahoo Lifestyle the 31-year-old man is well-liked in his community and familiar to authorities and when he disappeared on Wednesday his mother reported him missing.

Knowing the man likes to frequent a popular shopping area called University Square, Thompson and his team expanded their search to Copeland Creek, a tree-lined area with bridges and walking paths.

Thompson was unavailable for comment, however Deputy chief Aaron Johnson tells Yahoo Lifestyle that when the man saw Thompson park his motorbike, he started to run. “Officer Thompson took off his helmet, slowly approached, and calmed the man down,” he says. “The man felt scared and reached out for a hug.”

The police arranged for the “relieved and thankful” mother to pick up her son, who was missing for just under one hour.

A photo of the two men hugging was posted to Facebook by the police department, who wrote, “Motor Officer Justin Thompson is really feeling the love today after locating a missing resident on the creek path.” Locals commented that Thompson is a “wonderful human being” who goes “the extra mile” and showed “outstanding care and compassion.”

Officer Johnson says that Thompson’s sensitivity de-escalated the moment: “He’s a genuine human and empathetic friend to many. He was the right person for the job.”

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