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Boy Secluded from Media after Publicity Fails To Solve Mystery

June 10, 1988

EL PASO, Texas (AP) _ A weeklong barrage of publicity failed to turn up the identity of a deaf boy found wandering in Mexico, and authorities decided Friday to cancel an outing to shield the youngster from overattention.

The 7- or 8-year-old boy, who authorities believe could be an American survivor of a plane crash that killed his family, had been scheduled to view some airplanes at El Paso International Airport so officials could see whether he recognized any.

Child welfare workers in Mexico postponed the trip indefinitely, saying the boy was being spoiled by reporters following him around.

″Because of too much attention he’s been receiving, he’s starting to be a little tiresome,″ said Joel Bustamante, judicial director of the System of the Integrated Family, the agency caring for the child in Ciudad Juarez, just across the Mexican border from El Paso.

″He’s not acting like himself,″ said Pat Ayala, spokeswoman for the Texas Department of Human Services, which is working with Mexican authorities to find the boy’s relatives.

Sabat, as the freckled, brown-haired boy has been named by his Mexican guardians, has been photographed, stared at and entreated to draw pictures by reporters from England, France, Mexico and all over the United States.

On Thursday alone, reporters from two Oklahoma City TV stations visited Sabat, in addition to a reporter from People magazine and two journalists from London, Ms. Ayala said. The day before, reporters from the National Enquirer took a look at the tyke.

″The other kids feel left out,″ Ms. Ayala said.

Sabat’s story is compelling because so little of it is known. He has impaired hearing and communicates mostly by drawing pictures and gesturing. His pictures seem to indicate that he survived the crash of a four-seat, single-engine airplane that killed his parents and sister.

He was found wandering near downtown Juarez last November, with scars that look about 2 years old and could come from home-treated injuries.

After Mexican authorities noticed Sabat preferred hamburgers and hot dogs over Mexican fare and responded more enthusiastically toward American cartoon characters, they contacted their Texas counterparts.

The FBI and Human Services have fielded hundreds of phone calls from people offering tips and asking whether they can adopt Sabat. Potential adopters have been told they face long odds.

″Unless we’re able to make a positive identification as a U.S. citizen or even a legal resident, he remains in Mexican custody,″ Ms. Ayala said.

The Center for Missing and Exploited Children has supplied the FBI’s El Paso office with information on approximately 20 young boys who roughly fit Sabat’s description. Footprints from a missing Illinois boy who looked like Sabat didn’t match, and no firm leads have turned up, officials said.

There is some conjecture that Sabat is from Oklahoma because he recognizes the outline of that saucepan-shaped state, said Juan Ramon Hernandez, director general of the family agency in Juarez. He also becomes excited and points at himself when he sees a U.S. flag, Hernandez said.

When shown an Oklahoma map, Sabat points vaguely to the northwest corner of the state, Ms. Ayala said, adding, ″It’s hard to tell if he recognizes that part of the state or whether he was just playing with his finger.″

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