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Toddler Found Wandering in Busy Parking Lot Near US-19

SPRING HILL – A possible tragedy was averted this morning, thanks to the quick actions of a Spring Hill man who noticed a toddler wandering dangerously close to US-19.

Joseph Dono was in the drive-thru at Dunkin Donuts, located in front of the Target Department Store on US-19, when he noticed a young child running through the parking lot. Dono says, "I jumped out of my vehicle and ran over and grabbed the child before he could get hit by a car." In shock, Dono yelled, "Someone call 911." Dono tells R News that the child appeared to be between 2 and 3 years old, was not wearing underwear or a diaper, and was covered in feces. "I looked everywhere for the child's parents, but they were nowhere to be found," said Dono. Store employees ran to Dono's aid and took the child, so that he could go home to change clothes.

After several minutes, sources say the child's father arrived on scene and deputies arrived soon after to investigate the incident.

Dono believes the child may be autistic or suffers from some other disability. "I asked the child several times what his name was but all he kept saying was Gabriel and pointed his hand to the sky."

Bridgewater Club Apartments is located nearly 300 yards from Dunkin Donuts and is situated on the west side of a busy Frontage Road.

It's not unusual for children with disabilities to wander away from home. According to a recent Centers for Disease Control study, about half of children and youth with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) were reported to wander. Of those children, 1 in 4 were missing long enough to cause concern and were most commonly in danger of drowning or traffic injury.

The CDC encourages parents, teachers, and other caregivers to watch a child's behavior, have an emergency plan, keep updated information and a recent photo of the child nearby, secure doors and fences, especially around pools and other bodies of water, and keep an identification bracelet on the child.

It is unknown if the situation today is related to a disabled child or parental neglect.

The Hernando County Sheriff's Office has not responded to requests for comment.


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