As Avonte Oquendo, the autistic teen last seen leaving his Long Island City school nearly three weeks ago, still remains missing, police may need to scale back their search.
Avonte, 14, was last seen at the Center Boulevard School at 1-50 51st Avenue in Long Island City around 12:38 p.m. on Friday, October 4. There have been conflicting reports on how the Rego Park teen, who cannot verbally communicate and is supposed to be supervised at all times, managed to leave the school, said the family’s attorney, David Perecman.
According to Avonte’s grandmother, the security guard appointed to the front of the school said she had seen Avonte running towards the door, asked him where he was going and after he did not respond, she just allowed him to leave because she did not know he was a special needs student. Yet, according to Perecman, no student at the school is allowed to leave the property until dismissal.
Avonte’s mother, Vanessa Fontaine, previously told The Courier the school “failed her” when they took close to an hour to inform her that her son had gone missing.
However, according to reports, Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly said the school safety officer did nothing wrong.
On Monday, Kelly also reportedly said the NYPD may have to scale back its search for the teen.
The NYPD has had more than 100 officers searching the streets daily for the boy, who family says loves trains, and looking for him by helicopter and with divers. The police have also been driving around in patrol cars and search vans with loudspeakers playing Avonte’s mother’s voice.
Avonte’s family has also sought help from the Texas Equusearch Mounted Search and Recovery Team, a group of volunteers that have assisted in finding numerous missing people throughout the country.
The team traveled to the site on October 18 to “evaluate the situation” to determine if they have the resources to help search for Avonte.
The family has filed a notice of claim to sue the City of New York for $25 million, citing claims of negligence against both the Department of Education and the Special Security Division which provide the security agents for the school.
An initial $5,000 reward for Avonte’s return was offered by Mayerson & Associates, a New York Law Firm which represents individuals with autism. Manhattan Children’s Center, a nonprofit private autism school, announced it was matching the law firm’s offer with an additional $5,000 from the Gelb Family Foundation.
Since then, the reward has increased to $89,500 with the support of Health First, the employer of the missing teen’s mother, Suzanne and Bob Wright, co-founders of Autism Speaks, David Perecman of the Perecman Firm, and an anonymous donor.
Reverend Al Sharpton held a community outreach rally on Saturday, October 19 at the National Action Network headquarters in Manhattan where members of the organization pledged to canvas the city in search of Avonte.
Oquendo was last wearing a gray striped shirt, black jeans and black sneakers. He is 5’3” tall and weighs 125 pounds.
The NYPD has released a new photo of Avonte together with an image of the shirt he was wearing the day he went missing.
Anyone with information in regards to this incident is asked to call Crime stoppers at 1-800-577-TIPS (8477). The public can also submit their tips by logging onto the Crime stoppers website at WWW.NYPDCRIMESTOPPERS.COM or by texting their tips to 274637 (CRIMES) then enter TIP577. All calls are strictly confidential.