Far too often a search for a missing person does not conclude with a happy ending. We are happy to report that was not the case Monday in Cooperstown.
A three-house missing person’s search for Mutume Waddimba, 7, turned out to be a case of mistaken identity when the boy was found Monday afternoon in Utica.
According to police, the young boy was found “safe and sound” at the Utica Cerebral Palsy Center after a bus driver thought she was picking up his 5-year-old brother, Titus.
“We got a tip at 12:53 p.m. that maybe the boys got mixed up and he got on the bus by mistake. We followed up and it was confirmed at 1:17 p.m.,” Cooperstown Police Chief Mike Covert said. “The family has only lived there a week. The bus driver knew she was supposed to stop at their house. She knew she was supposed to pick up a small boy, but she didn’t know she was picking up the wrong boy.”
Both Mutume and Titus were described as non-verbal, special-needs children. In addition, at various points during the day, Mutume was described as a 5-year-old.
The ordeal began just after 10 a.m. when Mutume’s mother went to check on him — she thought he was playing in the basement of the family’s home on Glen Avenue. She reported him missing at 10:18 a.m.
Within 20 minutes police and firefighters were on the scene beginning a search-and-rescue that ended up lasting three hours.
By 11 a.m. they had made an initial search of side streets and along a fast-flowing creek that takes rain run-off to the Susquehanna River. The creek is the northern boundary of the Waddimba house, causing the search party to fear a tragic conclusion as they looked along the creek bed and in the tunnels underneath streets and some neighboring properties. Not long after that, a county K-9 unit arrived and was given a small backpack that belonged to the boy to give the dogs his scent.
Luckily, the boy did not end up in the river or someplace that could have led to a tragic ending. As the combined police groups were preparing a methodical grid search of the area, a call came from someone who had seen a small boy board a Birnie Bus, and the search turned from apprehension to joy when it was confirmed that the boy had ended up in Utica.