Connerjack Oswalt, who walked out of his Clearlake, Calif., home in September 2019 at the age of 17 and has not been seen since, was found by sheriff’s deputies shivering from the cold as he slept at a Summit County, Utah, gas station this week.
Oswalt appeared to be homeless and reportedly had been living on the streets there for about two weeks.
His family had searched for him for years, handing out fliers, scanning social media and desperately chasing down fruitless leads. They even moved back to the town of his birth, Idaho Falls, hoping he would eventually make it back there.
"Any hints at something that remotely resembled him, we would follow up on it," said his stepfather, Gerald Flint. "It’s been a real nightmare."
Oswalt, who has been diagnosed with autism and other mental health conditions, was 17 when he left the family’s home in Clearlake. His mother, Suzanne Flint, remembered making quesadillas, but when it was time for lunch, he was gone.
"I never stopped looking for him. There wasn’t a day I wasn’t searching for him, in some form or fashion," she said. The exact circumstances of his disappearance and whereabouts over the last two years are under investigation, police said.
Deputies had encountered Oswalt multiple times in past weeks, but the teenager refused their help when they reached out for services until finally agreeing to seek warmth in a patrol car at the freezing gas station.
That led them to an outstanding warrant from February in Nevada.
The officers set to work shifting through paperwork, looking for reports of missing and endangered children. About 16 pages in, they found a 2019 missing person report from Clearlake, California. Though it had a slightly different name spelling from the Nevada warrant, the photos matched and they called his family.
When the Flints first got the call, they worried their son had been found dead. After his wife confirmed the identification through a birth mark, Gerald Flint left work, jumped in his car and drove four hours to Utah.
"Everyone in the room was in tears. They went above and beyond, put hours of work," he said. "They could have dismissed it, but they didn’t and that made all the difference in the world."
Social workers knowledgeable about autism took over Oswalt’s care after the reunion with his family, said Summit County Sheriff’s Lt. Andrew Wright. His family is hoping to bring him back home soon.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.