ONLY ON ABC7NEWS.COM: 5-year-old boy wanders from Menlo Park day camp unnoticed

MENLO PARK, Calif. (KGO) -- A 5-year-old boy walked away from a camp in Menlo Park, and no one knew he was gone until his mother came to pick him up.

This happened at the Camp Galileo location on Elder Avenue on June 24th. The camp operates out of Hillview Middle School.

Sherine Khalil told ABC7 News she arrived to pick up her son from his first day of summer camp. She got to the Camp Galileo check-in table, showed her I.D. and waited.

"Other parents who came in after me, they picked up their child and my son wasn't coming out," she said. "I saw a counselor come out. She went to go look at the roster and they seemed to be confused. A couple of them looked up at me, and I walked over to say, 'Is there a problem?' and they said no, turned around and left."

At the same time, Sherine's husband got a call from work.

"There's a lady on the other line that said they found your son," Dr. Beemen Khalil explained. He was picking up their younger son elsewhere.

On the other end was a person who spotted their young son at the intersection of Cotton and Santa Cruz Avenue. The boy was alone and blocks away from the camp. A second person stopped the first Good Samaritan, and police were later called.

The boy's father then called Sherine who was still standing at the check-in table.

"I panicked, and I was shocked and it was surreal," she described. "In a moment he was lost, found- before we even knew or they knew he was lost."

The Khalil's eventually took the story to social media after they say the camp's response was not adequate for the incident.

"What if he was kidnapped, what if he was hurt, what if he was hit by a car," Dr. Khalil said about his son.

The Facebook post had more than 750 shares on Tuesday, and reads in-part:

"I felt that they did not fully grasp the gravity of the situation. They did not even know how he walked out without anyone seeing him and explained that they could not lock the exit gates because the camp is held at a public school. They did not know when attendance was last taken. They could not explain why he apparently was never even given an ID badge like the other children. There were no answers to simple questions."

Camp Galileo said it's working to correct those safety concerns. The camp has sent out multiple letters regarding the incident and actions it planned to take to improve safety.

According to Galileo Learning CEO and Founder, Glen Tripp, the first letter was sent to families attending the Menlo Park camp during the week of the incident, the second was to the 35,000 camper families at all Camp Galileo sites, and the third went to Menlo Park families.

On location Tuesday, Tripp showed ABC7 News updated security measures.

"We mark the boundaries with the orange cones," he said. "Then it's down to the staff to make sure that nobody goes beyond them."

Marking perimeters, manning exits, retraining staff and increasing roll-call at the recommendation of security experts are just a few changes.

The Camp Director was also terminated and replaced with a regional director.

In a letter sent out Monday night explains the steps camp leaders have taken since the incident:

  • Marked all boundaries with cones, and made staff members responsible for monitoring these boundaries when supporting activities were located nearby
  • Retrained all staff members on protocol for both monitoring activity areas and how to respond to emergencies
  • Committed to increasing the number of name roll calls to occur every 30 minutes and during all transitions
  • Committed to communicating expectations to campers regarding boundaries every day
  • We hired and deployed four additional staff roles whose sole responsibility is to monitor the four main boundaries of camp from 8am-6pm every day. The change here is that these are additional staff members who are only focused on boundaries. You will see them wearing fluorescent yellow vests
  • We hired a security expert to evaluate the campus and our practices and make recommendations. This firm was on campus today, and they reinforced the idea that focusing on boundary monitors is the most effective thing that can be done
  • We implemented a system-wide change that will restrict bathroom trips for our 1st-2nd graders so that they (along with our pre-K/K campers) must be escorted to our bathrooms by staff members

"This whole situation is completely unacceptable from where we stand," Tripp added. "The staffer didn't notice that the child had left, and that is not okay."

In the camp's 18 year existence, Tripp said this is the first time anything like this has happened.

Still, the Khalil's feel more should be done.

Reacting to the viral attention the Khalil's Facebook post is getting, Dr. Khalil acknowledged the mixed responses.

He pointed to posts blaming him and his wife's parenting, and other posts blaming their son.
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