By Bob Uphues
A 53-year-old man who reportedly walked away from caregivers and other members of a group visiting Brookfield Zoo's Holiday Magic event from a Robbins nursing home on Dec. 14 has been found safe in Chicago.
Riverside Police Chief Thomas Weitzel told the Landmark that a Metra commuter, who follows the Riverside Police Department's Twitter feed and had seen a tweet about the missing 53-year-old man, called on Tuesday afternoon to report that he was panhandling in front of a CVS in the 400 block of West Madison St., about a block away from the Ogilvie Transportation Center.
Local authorities contacted Chicago police, who confirmed the man was still at the location and that he refused medical attention. Weitzel said he notified Lydia Health Care Center, of Robbins, of the man's whereabouts and that he was told the nursing home would handle the matter from there.
But Weitzel blasted Lydia Health Care Center's handling of the case, criticizing the center's employees for failing to report the man missing for more than two hours on the night he walked away from his group.
Weitzel also slammed the nursing home officials for, he said, calling Riverside police the following day and asking them to remove the man from the national missing persons database.
"They told the police to stop looking for him, and I ordered the [Riverside police] shift supervisor not to remove him," said Weitzel, who added that when police asked if the nursing home had located the man or knew he was safe, someone from the health center said they did not have that information.
"I find it absurd they'd go first go back to Robbins, knowing he wasn't on the bus and then trying to cancel listing him as missing, because they considered it a mistake he was entered," Weitzel said.
Weitzel said the only way Chicago police were able to verify the man's identity was because his name and photograph were in the missing persons database. The man doesn't have a driver's license or state ID, Weitzel said.
The Landmark called Lydia Health Care Center on Tuesday afternoon, asking to speak to someone in charge, but was told no one in that capacity was in the building at the time and to call another time.
When asked for a name of someone to contact, the health center receptionist declined to provide one, saying whoever answered the phone could direct the reporter to the right person.
Weitzel said he had obtained the name of the man's public guardian, whose business card listed a Hines, Illinois, address – the location for Hines V.A. Hospital. It's unknown if the man is a veteran.
According to police, the man had been missing since walking away from a group visiting the zoo from Lydia Health Care Center, at about 7 p.m. on Dec. 14. A security camera reportedly captured video of the man talking to a zoo employee, who gave him directions to the Hollywood Metra station train from the zoo's South Gate.
However, police were not notified of the fact the man was missing until an officer were asked to respond to Brookfield Zoo at 9:35 p.m., after the group's bus had returned to the nursing home in Robbins.
Police checked area hospitals and notified other police agencies immediately afterward. They also contacted Metra and Amtrak, asking them to check trains and Union Station in Chicago for the man, without success.