msnbc.com staff and news service reports
updated 11/24/2009 11:06:23 AM ET 2009-11-24T16:06:23

The mother of a 13-year-old boy with Asperger's syndrome who was missing in New York City for 11 days said her son spent the entire time in the subway system.

The boy's mother, Marisela Garcia, said she felt police were slow to make the case a priority because she's a Mexican immigrant.

"Maybe because you might not understand how to manage the situation, because you don’t speak English very well, because of your legal status, they don’t pay you a lot of attention," she told the New York Times.

But police said they contacted the school immediately and leafleted most of the city.

The boy, Francisco Hernandez Jr., said he took refuge in the subway after getting in trouble at school and feared a scolding at home.

He has Asperger's syndrome, a form of autism, and struggles in situations that demand a "verbal or social response," a neuropsychologist said, according to the paper.

Hernandez rode trains and used station bathrooms, and said he mostly slept and lived on snacks and water for the entire duration of his disappearance.

"At some point I just stopped feeling anything," he told the New York Times.

‘Franky come home’
After he disappeared on his way home from school, his parents printed out more than 2,000 leaflets with a photo of him wearing the red hoodie he had on that day. Friends and relatives posted them in shops, on the street and throughout the subway in Brooklyn, the paper said.

"Franky come home," one pleaded in Spanish. "I’m your mother I beg you I love you my little boy."

The boy did not see the signs and said that no-one spoke to him during the 11 days. Asked by the paper if he saw any larger meaning in that, he said: "Nobody really cares about the world and about people."

His mother now wants to know how her son went unnoticed for so long despite surveillance cameras and a police search.

Hernandez had gone missing for five hours after school on a previous occasion, and had ridden the subway during that time. When the case shifted from the police precinct to the Missing Persons Squad, on Oct. 21, focus was put on the subway system, according to the New York Times.

At 6 a.m. on Oct. 26, a transit officer studying a photo of the boy spotted him in a Coney Island station.

"He asked me if I was Francisco," Hernandez recalled. "I said yes."

Copyright 2009 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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