On Friday morning, 19-year-old Hun-Joon (Paul) Lee boarded a school bus at 8:30 a.m as part of his normal school day routine. The 6-foot, 300-pound, severely autistic student had a routine of boarding the three-person bus and heading to school. When he arrived, the bus driver would say, "Let's go, Paul," a cue that let Paul, who could not speak but understood instructions, know it was safe to get up from his seat and exit the bus.
But on Friday, it seems he never left the bus. Around 4 p.m. that day, his body was found unresponsive in the aisle near the front of the bus in the Whittier Union High School District lot. Police believe that he spent the entire day, with temperatures climbing to triple digits, on the bus. They could not revive him.
The devastated family believes that a substitute bus driver didn't call out the usual cue, so Paul didn't rise from his seat. The family didn't know he was missing until he didn't return home at his usual 3:30 p.m. drop-off time. It was then that they called the Sierra Vista Adult School and learned he had been absent that day. "My mom was like, 'What do you mean? He got on the school bus this morning,'" Paul's sister Eiden Lee told People. The school then called the bus company who did a search and found him on the bus.
"How do you forget a big boy and just leave him in the bus? It was a small bus," Leslie Perez, Paul's caretaker's daughter, said.
"I can't even imagine how . . . I'm so sure that he was so scared," Eiden said. "He sees the school in front of him, but the door is locked. Other people would have just honked [to attract attention]. But he didn't know to do that."
Police are continuing to investigate the death and whether the bus company is required to do head counts after arriving at school. They say temperatures on the bus surpassed 120 degrees. In the meantime, the family has set up a GoFundMe page to help with funeral expenses. The requested $10,000 has already been surpassed with donations equaling more than $39,000.