By Christina Santucci
A 14-year-old boy who went missing in October from his Long Island City school was remembered as a courageous child for dealing with autism during his funeral mass in Greenwich Village Saturday morning.
“This morning we are grateful to God for Avonte Oquendo, for his life, for his courage and for the acts of goodness and kindness that his life and his tragic disappearance evoked among us,” retired Cardinal Edward Egan, the former Archbishop of New York, told hundreds of mourners, who attended the public service at the Church of Saint Joseph.
The line to enter the funeral wrapped around the block as attendees waited to be let inside.
“People who don’t even know Avonte have just poured out,” said Rose Ortiz, a cousin of Avonte’s father, Daniel Oquendo. “[The family] cannot believe so many people have come out. They are so grateful.”
Among them was Yonkers resident Jan Watts, who hung posters around schools in her neighborhood after he went missing.
Avonte was last seen Oct. 4 at the Riverview School, a public school for students with special needs at 150 51st Ave., where surveillance video showed the non-verbal teen running out of the building.
The citywide manhunt for the boy went on until his remains were discovered starting Jan. 16 along the rocky College Point shoreline.
Over the three months that the Rego Park teen was missing, Avonte’s family remained optimistic that he was alive.
“When he was lost, they never lost hope until his remains were found,” Egan said during the service, where he was joined by clergy from Our Lady of the Angelus in Rego Park.
A funeral home covered the costs of the funeral and a private wake beforehand, the Associated Press reported.
After Avonte’s white coffin was carried down the church steps and placed inside a hearse, family members led by his mother, Vanessa Fontaine, placed white roses on top of his casket, and white doves and blue balloons were released into the air.
“[Fontaine] just wants closure,” Ortiz said. “That’s what this day is about.”
“The only thing that can be discussed is grieving,” said the family’s lawyer, David Perecman, who filed court papers on behalf of Fontaine challenging the NYPD to release information about Avonte’s disappearance.
Perecman said that on Feb. 5 papers would be submitted in response by the NYPD, and shortly after, he expected to hear from a judge whether the family will be allowed to see the Police Department’s investigation.
Relatives were also waiting to hear back from the Special Commissioner of Investigation to find out of Avonte’s family would be able to view those files.
“There are really two things that need to go on. No. 1 we need to find out where the fault lies here,” Perecman said. “The City of New York has to make us a promise that they are going to look beyond this case, that they are going to look into their school safety system and they are going to look in their schools, and they are not going to let more children to walk out of school.”
Reach managing editor Christina Santucci by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org by phone at 718-260-4589.