LOS ANGELES (AP) — An autistic teenage Special Olympics athlete who vanished from Los Angeles International Airport was found sleeping on a lawn five miles away Monday afternoon, hours after another missing competitor turned up safe 350 miles away in Northern California.
Sihon Ange Ismael Kone, 15, of the Ivory Coast was found lying in the grass in front of an Inglewood house with his identification hanging by a passer-by, Los Angeles Police Department Cmdr. Dennis Kato said. The teen was tired, but healthy and in good spirits and was reunited with a member of his delegation who stayed behind after he went missing.
Airport police initially identified him as “Shion Isimel,” though he competed in table tennis as Ange Kone, according to the Special Olympics website.
The French-speaking boy had left the airport at about 6 a.m. There were indications Kone had been running, possibly because he didn’t want to return home, though Kato didn’t elaborate.
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Earlier in the day, an Albanian athlete who disappeared from the games turned up safe in a community on the east side of the San Francisco Bay.
Andi Gusmari, 44, came to the Hayward Police Department on his own around 2 a.m. Monday and used a lobby phone to contact a dispatcher, acting Lt. Guy Jakub said.
Gusmari, who had identification with him, was safe and comfortable, but police were not able to communicate very well with him because of a speech disability, Jakub said.
Gusmari, a bowling competitor, disappeared from the University of Southern California sometime after 8:30 p.m. Saturday, a day before the games ended.
He apparently took a bus to Northern California, said Jeff Carr, chief operating officer of the Special Olympics World Games Organizing Committee.
“We are delighted that Andi is safe,” Carr said in a statement.
The athlete’s family members were notified, and he spoke to them, said Rich Perelman, a spokesman for the LA 2015 games.
The delegations are required to come with a ratio of one coach to four athletes, and the coaches are responsible for managing their participants, Carr said.
A Special Olympics staff member was sent to help Gusmari get back to Los Angeles and then to Albania.
Some 6,500 athletes from around the world took part in the Special Olympics, which used venues around the Los Angeles area.
The participants said goodbye Sunday in an emotional closing ceremony at Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum, the centerpiece of the 1932 and 1984 Olympics.
The disappearances of Kone and Gusmari are not the first to occur during a Special Olympics competition.
Three athletes and a coach from Niger went missing from the Special Olympics games in Ireland in 2003. Two Moroccan athletes and two Dominican Republic athletes disappeared from the games in the Raleigh-Durham area in 1999.
Perelman said it is not unusual for someone to get lost or even defect during any large international event, particularly in a Western country. He also noted that in the case of both Kone and Gusmari, the athletes were in the direct care of their delegation when they went missing.
“We wish everything went smoothly and no one did anything out of the ordinary,” Perelman said. “But this is real life.”
He added that the motivation and interests of Special Olympics athletes were no different from any others participating in international athletic competitions.
“I think this shows they are exactly in the same shoes,” he said. “I think they understand exactly what the situation is.”