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Teen With Special Needs Found Dead On a School Bus

The Short of It

Hun-Joon Lee, a 19-year-old student with special needs from Whittier, California, was found dead in the back of an empty school bus on Friday. His family believes the non-verbal teen with autism was left on the bus—perhaps awaiting instructions to disembark—on a day when temps hit triple digits. And sadly, by the time he was discovered, it was too late: Attempts to revive the teen failed.

The Lowdown

Hun-Joon, who also went by the name Paul, was picked up at approximately 8:30 a.m. on Friday, and was supposed to be dropped off at the Sierra Education Center in Whittier, according to NBC Los Angeles. But it appears that he may never have made it off the bus.

Lee does not speak, but follows directions and was likely waiting for someone to tell him to get off the bus. His routine driver is said to cue the boy, saying, "Let's go Paul." But his family claims a different driver picked the teen up.

Sierra Education Center hasn't said if the special needs teen was in class that day, but when he didn't return home in the afternoon, his mother, Eun Ha Lee, called the school looking for him. The school then called the bus company responsible for transporting Lee. Police found the teen inside the bus, unconscious. Tragically, he did not respond to attempts to revive him, and was pronounced dead.

"Inside the bus was about 120-130 degrees and Paul was trapped in there for almost nine hours without a single drop of water," Lee's sister, Eiden, wrote on a GoFundMe page the family set up to help with expenses. "My family is completely torn apart and heartbroken, knowing what he had felt during those painful hours. We are hit so hard with this sudden tragedy," 

The Upshot

"This tragedy has devastated all of us,'' says Whittier Union High School District Superintendent Valerie Thorstenson. "We are still gathering information about what happened. The district is calling for a speedy and thorough investigation to determine how something like this could happen." Hopefully the investigation will bring some peace to the family, and spread awareness so that a tragic event like this doesn't ever happen again. Our hearts go out to the Lee family.

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