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Berkeley Police Honor Boy, 10, Who Helped Find Missing Man

Brandon Coleman, a 5th grader at John Muir Elementary School in Berkeley, was commended by Berkeley police in a presentation today for his help in locating a missing 61-year-old man who suffers from dementia.

Police honor Brandon Coleman, 5th grader at John Muir Elementary in Berkeley, on Jan. 22, 2014 for his help in locating a missing man. His mother Niema is at left. Photo: Mark Coplan, Berkeley Unified School District
Police honor Brandon Coleman, 5th grader at John Muir Elementary in Berkeley, on Jan. 22, 2014 for his help in locating a missing man. His mother Niema is at left. Photo: Mark Coplan, Berkeley Unified School District
Berkeley police presented a certificate, miniature badge and letter of thanks from the police chief to a Berkeley 5th grader today, Wednesday, for his help in locating a missing man.

Two officers made the presentation to Brandon Coleman, 10, in front of his class at John Muir Elementary School.

The missing man episode unfolded Jan. 14 when a 61-year-old man suffering from dementia was reported missing near the Claremont Hotel.

A search of many hours involving 12-15 Berkeley police officers, Alameda County search-and-rescue dogs and an East Bay Regional Park District helicopter had not been successful, said Berkeley Police Officer Stephen Burcham, one of the officers who made the presentation.

The man had been last seen around 8 a.m.

About 5:15 p.m, Brandon's mother, Niema Coleman, checked a missing-person email alert from Berkeley police on her cell phone while she was waiting on Broadway in Oakland for her son to finish his drumming lessons at a music school.

She opened the alert, looked at the photo and happened to notice a man coming down the street who seemed to bear a close resemblance to the photo on her phone. But she wasn't sure.

"My son at that moment came out," she told reporters at the school this morning. "And he's got eagle eyes. We call him 'eagle eyes.'" So she asked him.

"He took a look at the picture and he looked at the man, and he said, 'Mom, that's him.'"

So she approached the man and asked if he was the individual reported as missing. The man said no, that she had the wrong person.

"I went back to my son, and I said, 'That's not him. What do I do?'"

"He said, 'Mom – it's him. Call the police.'"

She called the police, who asked if she and her son could follow the man and provide updates on his location until police could arrive.

"I asked my son, 'Is that okay with you?' And he said, 'Yeah, Mom, we've got to.'"

They followed the man for about five blocks, until police arrived and confirmed that he was the missing person.

"It was pretty exciting, and a little nerve-wracking too," she told reporters.

During the presentation, Brandon seemed a bit shy when asked what he did.

When Officer Burcham asked the youth what he told his mother they should do, Brandon shrugged and said, "Just follow him."

Burcham asked what else Brandon told him mom they should do. "Call 911," the youth replied.

"Brandon knew if you need help or someone else needs help, you call the police," Burcham told the class.

Standing at the front of the class with Brandon and Officer Burcham were Brandon's smiling mother and Office Jessyca Nabozny.

The letter of thanks from Police Chief Michael Meehan was for both Brandon and his mother, Burcham said.

The accompanying video was produced by Mark Coplan of the Berkeley Unified School District.

Article published Jan. 22, 2014, 7:12 p.m.; updated Jan. 23, 6:02 a.m.
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