PALISADES PARK, N.J. -- A group of first responders received commendations Tuesday night from the Palisades Park governing body for rescuing an 8-year-old autistic boy from Overpeck Creek after he wandered off.
Honored with life-saving awards were Palisades Park Firefighter Charles Stark and Police Lt. Matthew Finck and Sgt. Christopher Beck, Ridgefield Police Officer Daniel Berger and Leonia Police Officer John Longo.
Joseph Cassese finally came home earlier this month -- and received a hero's welcome -- after spending several weeks in rehab following a lengthy hospital stay after the Nov. 11 incident last year.
By chance, someone in a Ridgefield Park office building saw Joseph go into the water that afternoon and quickly dialed 911.
At almost the same time, his caretaker -- realizing Joseph 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.
The responders pulled Joseph from the water and conducted CPR.
He 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.
"He still needs a lot of out-patient therapy -- we're going to Holy Name for that," his mother, Angela, told Daily Voice in early February. "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."