Avonte Oquendo, Missing Autistic Boy, Subject Of Huge NYPD Hunt
The search continues for missing New York City boy Avonte Oquendo, who suffers from autism and has been missing since Oct. 4. The NYPD has been working tirelessly to find Avonte, who is 14 years old, but has no verbal skills and has the mental capacity of a seven year old.
Avonte’s family has been working with the NYPD to post flyers and raise awareness around the City and beyond in the hope that someone will spot Avonte and bring him to safety. New York City commuters will note that a NYPD alert has been playing on the subway since Avonte’s disappearance.
Most recently, the search for Avonte was officially expanded beyond New York City on Wednesday, though it does not seem police believe he wandered too far. According to NYPD Commissioner Ray Kelly, Avonte loved trains and it is possible he boarded one. Avonte has reportedly gone missing three times before, and has always been found in the subway system, on platforms or along the tracks. On Saturday, the MTA suspended all maintenance and workers searched the tunnels instead.
Avonte was last seen running out of his school, the Riverdale School in Long Island, where he is supposed to have one-on-one care and supervision at all times. It is unclear whether or not the school is at fault, but the Oquendo family has filed a claim to sue the school district and the city for a lack of supervision – in a surveillance video, Avonte can be seen running out of his school, into an empty street, with no security or school personnel going after him.
“I don’t want to cast stones without knowing, but the fact that he got away from that class and got downstairs means somebody was not looking and not watching, because otherwise, it wouldn’t have happened,” said Oquendo family lawyer David Perecman.
“It’s heartbreaking. I just need to find my son because he needs his family, he cannot fend for himself out there,” Vanessa Fontaine, Avonte’s mother, told WABC.
The NYPD has also begun a new search effort using Fontaine’s voice in hopes of attracting Avonte to a police vehicle. From loudspeakers, Fontaine’s message is being projected throughout the city: “Avonte, this is your mother. You are safe. Walk toward the lights.”
On Saturday, Avonte’s family will meet with Reverend Al Sharpton’s National Action Network to ask for help in the search for their son, and the organization will plan city-wide search parties for Avonte.
— NYPD NEWS (@NYPDnews) October 18, 2013
A reward for information of Avonte’s whereabouts has grown to over $70,000 with the help of donors and Autism Speaks, an organization that raises awareness and education about autism. According to Autism Speaks, many autistic children are prone to ‘wandering.’ This means that children with autism may often run away from something they find frightening or towards something they find intriguing without truly thinking about, or understanding, where they are going.
In addition to the reward, a Facebook page titled ‘Bring Avonte Home’ has been created to help the Oquendo family. The page posts updates on the search and make flyers (in multiple languages) available for those who wish to volunteer their time or money to share them and spread the word in any way possible.
“On behalf of my family I would love to thank all of you for the tremendous amount of support you have shown us. You have given us the strength to persevere through these tough times. Thank you for the link sharing, reposting, retweets, flyer distribution, donations, and searching. Together we WILL #FindAvonte,” Avonte’s brother Danny Oquendo wrote on the page.
The NYPD is currently using infrared cameras in their search, hoping to detect Avonte’s body heat, but divers have also joined in on the search, should Avonte be found dead.
The Oquendo family is also planning to search Central Park on Saturday, Oct. 19 and has asked the public for help.
“My message to my son is that I love him and we’re going to find him. You’ll come home to your family. And for anyone who has him, please be kind and let him go,” Fontaine pleaded during a recent appearance on Piers Morgan Live.
Avonte is 5-foot-3, weighs 125 pounds. He was last seen wearing a white and grey stripped polo shirt, black jeans and black shoes. If you have information, please call NYPD Crime Stoppers at 800-577-TIPS or visit nypdcrimestoppers.com or contact your local authorities.
– Olivia Truffaut-Wong