Lucian Munguia is independent, confident, capable and smart.
These are the traits described by his family that give them hope as they continue searching for the 4-year-old, who has been missing from Yakima for two weeks.
Lucian was last seen Sept. 10, walking across the parking lot of Sarg Hubbard Park and toward the Yakima River and other bodies of water. He was wearing blue shorts and a blue shirt with a shark on it.
"That's his life, sea life," said his mother, Sandra Munguia, on Friday at the park, where the family has stayed for the last two weeks to coordinate the search, meet with volunteers and pass out flyers.
Lucian is autistic and nonverbal. Though he isn't able to have a conversation, he can speak and communicate about the things he cares about, namely sea creatures.
He can name all sorts of sea creatures, from fish to sharks to whales. He says "echolocation" and "sea anemone," words some adults may have difficulty pronouncing, and he knows what they mean, his family says.
"It was his 3rd birthday, and he had just opened a package of sea creature toys from his grandpa, when he said his first full sentence," his mother Sandra remembered: "A beluga whale has echolocation."
This fascination with all things sea has led the family to say, in both humor and certitude, that he'll be a marine biologist by age 16.
"His capability and the drive he has — it's amazing to see the passion he has as a 4-year-old," said his aunt, Amy Bailey of Spokane.
She is one of the many family members from across the state to drop everything to come be in Yakima with Sandra and Lucian's father, Juan Munguia, until the boy is found.
The family's search
Family members have been leading the search for Lucian since authorities pulled back their search about four days after the boy went missing. The family's efforts include searching the area on foot as well as in rafts, kayaks and other watercraft, distributing flyers and garnering community support.
They remain in touch with law enforcement officials, who are still actively investigating the boy's disappearance. Officers walk the perimeter of the pond near Sarg Hubbard each morning looking for signs of Lucian and check in with the family each day.
Many family members are staying in a motel to be near the park. Lucian's mother said she can't stand to be far from the scene.
Each evening, the family gathers for a vigil and prayer to recenter.
"When we have that moment, that's when we call everyone over who's nearby. We pray every night for his safety and that we'll see him soon," said another aunt of Lucian's, Angela Flores.
Sandra said she can't begin to describe how grateful she is to have the support of family.
"I can't even explain how grateful I am for that," she said. "Even the volunteers, there are no words for how grateful I am."
The family appeared in the Sunfair Parade on Saturday and plan to attend the Central Washington State Fair this week as a way to reach more people in the community and continue to request help from volunteers.
More about Lucian
"Lucian is a very independent child," his aunt Amy Bailey said. "He's just so content in being himself and knowing himself."
She said that's always been clear about him: "The older he gets, I don't see anyone being able to bring him down."
Lucian has beautiful dark hair, his aunts say, and dark eyes that grow even darker with bags underneath when he's tired.
"You can just tell when he's played so hard," his aunt Sarah Bailey said.
He loves being around his family, including his two siblings and many cousins, but mostly enjoys playing by himself. He doesn't understand hide-and-seek or other children's games, his family says, but he loves to poke his cousins or other family members and say, "I'm going to get you," before running away.
He also loves the outdoors and playing outside.
"That's why we can still see him out there," Amy Bailey said, "living his best life, playing outside without adults."
'He loves to swim'
Lucian's love for the sea translates to other bodies of water, including pools, baths and even puddles.
"He loves to swim," Sandra said. "For a 4-year-old, he knows how to swim. He knows how to swim underwater and come up for breath."
Angela Flores remembers a recent afternoon at Lucian's grandmother's house, which has a pool in the backyard for the grandkids. Lucian was so excited to show her he could swim, Angela said.
"He's brave," she said.
Getting him to leave the pool when it's time to go home is always a challenge, multiple family members recalled.
"His real meltdowns are when you try to leave the pool," said his uncle, Trevor Bailey. "You have to pry him away."
"If he was not ready, it was not a good thing," Sandra said. "It's hard. We'd have to pick him up and carry him away."
Lucian even likes puddles, according to his grandma, Lorrie Bailey.
"It could be a puddle this big," she said, making a circle with her hands, "and he'd find it, play in it and come back all muddy."
Lucian's aunt Sarah Bailey agreed.
"He doesn't like the things other kids are into these days," she said. "He's grown up more like we grew up as kids. He wants to go outside, play in the dirt, get dirty."
Sandra said that's just fine — because he also loves bath time.
Though he isn't enthralled with technology like other young children, Lucian does use virtual learning tools and listen to music, his family says.
When he uses the iPad, it's almost always for learning activities, which is how he has learned the names of so many sea creatures — more than 50, according to his mom.
This fall, Lucian started in a program for autistic children through Catholic Charities called Applied Behavior Analysis. It's a program that focuses on helping autistic children learn to communicate and develop social and learning skills, his mother said.
She said he attended the program for about two weeks before he went missing. One of the communication skills he picked up in that short amount of time was to point at his mouth when he's trying to speak or communicate.
"That's something they use there, and he was already catching on," Sandra said. "He learns so quickly."
And although he doesn't often speak in full sentences or carry on conversations, he is able to communicate.
His aunts Amy and Sarah Bailey said he learned ways to let people know his needs the same way he learned the types of sea animals: by hearing something and repeating it.
"If he falls down and wants someone to ask if he's OK, he says, 'Are you OK?' to them, because that's what he's heard other people say," Sarah said. "If he's hungry, he asks, 'Are you hungry?'"
His grandmother, Lorrie Bailey, said he also uses gestures for please and thank you. Other behaviors, like bouncing, show that he's excited or happy.
She remembered one greeting from him that captured his boundless energy.
"He came one day, just running, and he jumped in my arms and we both fell to the floor. Then he said 'Hiya, GG,'" she said. GG is the name her grandkids call her.
"We sure want him home."
Lucian is also sweet, his family said.
Lucian shows affection to his mother and some other family members by holding their face in his hands, but it's always on his terms, Sandra said. Just like he spends much of his time playing independently, he also often doesn't want to be touched.
"He'll walk up to me randomly, grab my face and give me a kiss," Sandra said. "He sits on my lap or brings a blanket to tuck over both of us.
"But he's not super affectionate all the time," she continued. "My daughter, she likes to be held forever. ... With him, it's on his terms, his time."
The first time he told her he loved her was before he turned 3, Sandra said. She remembers the moment vividly.
"He walked up to me, put his hand on my face, and said 'Mommy. I love you, Mommy," she said. "After, I held him for as long as he'd let me."