PALISADES PARK, N.J. -- An 8-year-old autistic boy from Palisades Park who was pulled from Overpeck Creek after he wandered off from his family in November returned home to cheers Wednesday.
Video captured Joseph Cassese being driven up to the Palisades Park Early Childhood Center -- with an escort from borough police off Route 46 and through town -- for a raucous homecoming.
Waiting were dozens of youngsters -- including Joseph's two sisters, ages 4 and 5, who attend the ECC.
Although Joseph doesn't speak, "his eyes and his face spoke so much," his mother, Angela, told Daily Voice. "He was just so glad to be back.
"He hugged his sisters, then hugged and high-fived the police officers."
"Thirty years of doing EMS and I was in tears," said volunteer firefighter Charles Stark, one of the rescuers.
Joseph had an angel on his shoulder that Nov. 11 day.
By chance, someone in a Ridgefield Park office building saw him go into the water and quickly dialed 911.
At almost the same time, Joseph's caretaker -- realizing he was missing -- activated Project Lifesaver, a special rapid-response device that helps locate adults and children who have gone missing due to Alzheimer’s, autism, Down Syndrome, dementia and other related disorders.
Responders from several departments were at the spot in Overpeck Park instantly, witnesses said. The caller then led them directly to Joseph.
Along with Stark were Palisades Park Police Lt. Matthew Finck, Sgt. Christopher Beck, Detective George Beck, Ridgefield Police Officer Daniel Berger and Leonia Police Officer John Longo.
They pulled Joseph from the water and conducted CPR.
The youngster was first taken to Holy Name Medical Center and later transported to St. Joseph's Regional Medical Center in Paterson, where he spent several weeks in ICU.
On Wednesday, he completed rehabilitation at Children's Specialized Hospital in New Brunswick and was released.
"He still needs a lot of out-patient therapy -- we're going to Holy Name for that," his mother said. "He had to come home with a feeding tube, so we need to get him eating again.
"But no one expected him to do this well, so we're thankful."