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July 9, 2013

Missing Cooperstown boy found in Utica

By Greg Klein STAFF WRITER
The Daily Star

---- — A three-hour missing-person search for a young boy in Cooperstown turned out to be a case of mistaken identity when the boy was found Monday afternoon in Utica.

Seven-year-old Mutume Waddimba 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.”

Mutume and Titus were described as non-verbal, special-needs children. At various points during the day, Mutume was described as a 5-year-old; even his mother, Prisca, apparently gave the police his wrong date of birth, telling them that Mutume was born 11-17-2008 and Titus was born 11-24-2008. Mutume was born in 2005, Covert said.

After it was confirmed that Mutume was in Utica, the search was called off and state police took Prisca and the boys’ father, Dr. Anthony Waddimba, to get their child.

Dr. Waddimba works at Bassett Medical Center.

The ordeal began just after 10 a.m. when Prisca went to check on Mutume, who she thought 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 had begun a search-and-rescue operation that lasted three hours. In addition to the Cooperstown police and fire departments, New York State Police and the Otsego County Sheriff’s Department responded. By 11 a.m., they had searched side streets and a nearby fast-flowing creek.

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.

A small stretch of Glen Avenue, also known as state Highway 28, was shut down, with traffic rerouted to Main Street. Media reports were issued and officials set up a center of operations on nearby Grove Street. By noon, police were stopping cars on Chestnut Street, showing a photo of Mutume to drivers. 

According to Covert, calls jammed up the police lines as people called, either with tips or to inquire how to help. Shortly before 1 p.m., as police were preparing a methodical search of the area, they received the tip about Mutume boarding the bus. 

“It works,” Covert said of coordinated efforts of the various police and rescue units and the media alerts. “The entire community reached out to help and we really appreciate it.”