Deaf, nonverbal 15-year-old with autism located safe in neighboring Grand Forks apartment

After a seven hour search police say 15-year-old Kanyon Tollefson was found by the owner of the apartment when he returned home.

Kanyon Tollefson.jpg
Kanyon Tollefson
Grand Forks Police Department

GRAND FORKS — A deaf and non-verbal 15-year-old boy who ran away from his residence early Thursday morning, May 4, was located in the early afternoon.

Kanyon Tollefson was located safe around 1:05 p.m., about a block away from his residence — a REM ND facility on 400 block of North 51st Street.

According to Tollefson’s aunt, Terry Lafferty, her nephew climbed out of the window and stacked chairs to get over the backyard fence. Tollefson’s guardians realized he was missing sometime before 6 a.m., when he would typically be woken up for his medication.

Officers began searching the area but were unable to locate Tollefson at first. North Dakota Highway Patrol provided a tracking dog for assistance.

“We had so many people looking,” Lafferty told WDAY News.


Lafferty was in the REM building printing out flyers for her nephew when he was found in a nearby apartment that was left unlocked when the owner went to work earlier in the morning.

Tollefson was uninjured and returned to his guardians.

“In my gut, I kind of had a feeling he was close by,” Lafferty said.

Lafferty said she’s still processing her feelings.

“I’m feeling blessed, humbled, and grateful due to the fact that this outcome could’ve been so much worse,” said Lafferty. “There’s so many families that have been in serious situations where they didn’t get to have a great outcome.”

Lafferty said she felt ungrateful at first, because she thought law enforcement wasn’t listening to her family's concerns about Tollefson.

“But they just had to take time to build up the team to help,” Lafferty said.

Tollefson is doing well, according to Lafferty, who said the event was like an adventure for him.


Tollefson has lived in the group home for two years. He's never run away from the home, but has tried. Following this incident, Lafferty thinks new alarms will be installed in the windows.

“We don’t want this to happen to another autistic child, or a child in general,” Lafferty said.

Tollefson ran away multiple times when he lived with his family in Walhalla.

“He would run to the balloon shop and try to get free balloons,” Lafferty said.

A spokesperson for REM North Dakota wrote; "The health and safety of the individuals we support is our top priority, and we have taken immediate steps to put additional safety measures in place. We are working with local law enforcement and conducting an internal review to assess today’s events. We are  grateful that Kanyon is home and is safe. Tremendous thanks to Kanyon’s family, our team, and the Grand Forks Police Department for their swift action, and to our local community for coming together to help locate him."

The UND Police Department, Grand Forks Fire Department, Grand Forks Regional UAS Team and the U.S. Customs and Border Protection Air and Marine unit also assisted in the search.

Sav Kelly joined the Grand Forks Herald in August 2022.

Kelly covers public safety, including local crime and the courts system.

Readers can reach Kelly at (701) 780-1102 or
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