By Rich Bockmann
The massive search moved into the second week for Avonte Oquendo, the autistic Rego Park teen who disappeared when he ran out of his Long Island City school earlier this month.
Avonte, 14, has severe autism and cannot communicate verbally. He was last seen at the Riverview School, a District 75 public school for students with special needs at 150 51st Ave., just before 12:40 p.m. Oct. 4, when surveillance video showed the young boy running out of the school building.
Nearly two weeks since his disappearance, his family continued to keep up their diligent search based at a tent set up across the street from his school.
“It’s tough, but we’ve got to hold on,” the boy’s father, Daniel Oquendo, said Wednesday as the family held out hope that someone would come forward with a tip that would help them finally find Avonte.
With each passing day, however, his father said he thought it was less likely Avonte was wandering around by himself. The teen can gesture physically for help, but his father said he is prone to shy away from strangers.
“I just want to hug him and hold him,” he said.
Avonte had wandered off in the past but never longer for an hour, his father said. He had been found at the subway station, so the police began their initial search in the city’s transit system near the school and expanded the hunt citywide.
Transit stations, buildings and light posts across Queens and the rest of the city have been plastered with posters showing Avonte’s smiling face and a plea for anyone with information on his whereabouts to contact the NYPD’s Crime Stoppers hot line at 1-800-577-TIPS.
Earlier Tuesday the authorities had expanded the scope of the search outside the five boroughs to Long Island and New Jersey on the hunch that Avonte may have traveled outside the city.
In an effort to aid the search, a Facebook page, Bring Avonte Home, was set up as a kind of sounding board to coordinate a volunteer effort, and it drew support from many families with autistic children.
On Twitter, the hashtag #findavonte was being used to get the word out about the missing boy.
Meanwhile, a number of donors had pitched in to offer a $70,000 reward for Avonte’s safe return.
Mayerson & Associates law firm, the nonprofit autism school the Manhattan Children’s Center and the Gelb Family Foundation kicked in $5,000 each, and Autism Speaks received an anonymous, $35,000 donation to add to the pot.
The Oquendo family’s attorney, David Perecman, increased the total to $70,000.
Perecman filed notice Oct. 9 that Avonte’s mother planned to sue the city for $25 million in damages, claiming the city Department of Education was negligent in failing to supervise the boy.
Reach reporter Rich Bockmann by e-mail at [email protected] or by phone at 718-260-4574.