A developmentally disabled man who disappeared from a day program in Vineland more than two weeks ago was found dead Wednesday, police said.
While the death is being investigated, the group manager of the Mays Landing home where Robert Nicholson IV lived blames negligence.
Nicholson, 28, left the facility Dec. 10. A landscaper found his body Wednesday, near a retention pond at 3001 E. Chestnut Ave., across from Vineland’s high schools.
It was only Nicholson’s second day at the facility, where he was supposed to be a “line of sight” patient, meaning he is to be supervised at all times, said Heather Grosso, his house manager.
Grosso said she and two others spent every day searching for Nicholson, handing out flyers to cabdrivers and others, hoping to find him.
As they drove looking for him at about 2 one morning, driving 25 mph and yelling his name, police stopped them for “driving suspiciously,” she said. When she told them about the missing man, they were unaware.
A spokesman for the New Jersey Department of Human Services, which NJ REM is a provider for, would not comment on specifics but said that, in general, a thorough investigation would be completed.
“We are deeply saddened to learn of Mr. Nicholson’s passing and send our condolences to his family and friends,” communications director Tom Hester told BreakingAC. “We are prohibited from discussing individual situations, but generally the department would conduct a thorough and complete investigation and work with law enforcement authorities as well. The health and safety of individuals with disabilities is a top department priority.”
While Nicholson was reported missing at 1:30 p.m., Grosso said she received a call after Nicholson’s body was found that he had been missing since at least 12:30 p.m., and that he had been unsupervised in the cafeteria.
No one associated with the REM program returned calls seeking comment.
Nicholson suffered from schizophrenia, was developmentally delayed and walked with an unsteady gait, Grosso said.
“For him to be missing and nobody notice, I think that he had a head start on the staff,” she said. “He walks like he’s intoxicated. His legs and mobility were getting observed by a doctor. He’s not a runner.”
Nicholson was pronounced dead at 4:10 p.m. Wednesday.
Police said there were no signs of trauma. An investigation is pending final autopsy results.
But Grosso is hoping that Nicholson’s story will lead to change. She would like to see something similar to an Amber Alert for those with mental disorders.
“Robert was just a happy-go-lucky, beautiful person who didn’t deserve to die this way,” Grosso said. “As a group home manager, as somebody who loved him like he was my son… This never would have happened if the day program was doing their job.”