Missing autistic girl was San Francisco resident who attended Sunset Elementary School

The young autistic girl found dead Wednesday near her family’s Lake County vacation home was a student at Sunset Elementary School in San Francisco.

Mikaela Lynch, 9, was last seen Sunday in the backyard of the Clearlake home. She was reported missing after walking away from the backyard, where she had been playing with her brother.

Following a massive search that included teachers and other volunteers from her 41st Avenue school in San Francisco, which offers a special program specifically for children with autism, she was found dead by a police dive team in a muddy Cache Creek about noon Wednesday.

She had an affinity for water, authorities said, but the mental capacity of an infant. She also could not speak.

Video surveillance shot from a neighbor’s home recorded her running up the street naked, with her family searching for her a short time later.

Sunset Elementary Principal Sophie Lee and other school officials are in the process of figuring out how to address Mikaela’s death to the rest of the students, a San Francisco Unified School District spokeswoman said. Officials had limited information about Mikaela and her family but kids must live in The City to attend San Francisco public schools.

Spokeswoman Heidi Anderson said in a statement that “in the coming days the school will find ways for the community to honor Mikaela.”

Meanwhile, parents of students at the school pledged to “support the family however we can,” said Kim Freudenberg, president of Sunset Elementary’s parent-teacher association.

“Our parent community is very strong; everybody has been asking for days what we can do to help,” said Freudenberg, who noted that even students who didn’t know Mikaela soon figured out “something was up” Monday when she was not at school.

“It’s tough in there,” Freudenberg said. “Everybody is really upset.”

Sunset Elementary has a program designed specifically for children with autism, according to the San Francisco Unified School District website.

Parents said the special needs program, which has some 20 students, operates independently of the rest of the school but Mikaela was still well-known among peers.

Parents also said they were shocked at the death but able to find solace in the fact that no violence or abduction appears to have occurred.

Norman Choi, whose fourth-grade daughter knew Mikaela, spent a somber Monday evening speaking to his concerned child about her missing schoolmate.

“We were all worried, we were all concerned,” said Choi, as other parents led children away by the hand or loaded them into cars, some wiping away tears. “But at least it didn’t happen at school.”

The school district could not comment on how long Mikaela had attended the school. The family has requested privacy and did not make any public statements Wednesday.


The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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