Avonte remembered on first anniversary of disapearance

By Bill Parry

Avonte Oquendo was remembered on the first anniversary of his disappearance Saturday by his mother, Vanessa Fontaine, and dozens of friends and family who took part in the exhaustive 4 1/2 month search for the 14-year-old autistic boy. Avonte vanished from the Riverview School in Long Island City last Oct. 4 and his body was discovered on the shore of College Point in January.

The remembrance was held at Hunters Point South near the spot where Avonte is believed to have entered the water. His cause of death has yet to be determined by the Medical Examiner’s Office.

“I’m here to honor him today because he was an amazing kid,” Fontaine said. “There’s not a day that goes by that I don’t think of him.”

They gathered under the pavilion of the East River Ferry, barely sheltered from a driving rainstorm. All clutched pinwheels adorned with ribbons bearing his name, pinwheels being a symbol of child safety, according to an organizer.

The family’s lawyer, David Perecman, reflected on the storm saying, “Today is the day of atonement and remembrance, Yom Kippur. I think it’s Avonte’s spirit that brought the clouds over us, just like last Oct. 4 was a dark day.”

City Councilman Robert Cornegy (D-Bedford Stuyvesant) from Brooklyn, who introduced Avonte’s Law, was the only elected official present. The law, signed by Mayor de Blasio in August, requires the Department of Education to evaluate the need for alarms to be installed on outside doors at all schools and install them where it has deemed them necessary.

After prayers, poetry readings and a moment of silence the crowd released 26 white and blue balloons, the most allowed by a city ordinance.

But first Avonte’s mother had some strong words for city and school officials. “Because they didn’t do their jobs I don’t have my son, my baby,” Fontaine said through tears. “Because I trusted them and he didn’t come home because they didn’t do their jobs.”

At that moment, she was interrupted by a blast of a horn from the East River Ferry pulling into the landing. Fontaine regrouped and said, “That’s Avonte saying ‘Go get ’em, Mom.’”

Reach reporter Bill Parry by e-mail at bparr‌[email protected]‌local.com or by phone at 718-260-4538.