By Gina Martinez
The U.S. Senate has passed a bipartisan bill named in part for a Queens autistic teen whose disappearance set off a citywide search that lasted months. The bill, known as Kevin and Avonte’s Law, was unanimously approved July 7. The bill was in honor of Kevin Willis and Avonte Oquendo, two autistic boys who both died after wandering off. Avonte disappeared in October 2013 when he ran out of Riverview High School in Long Island City. His whereabouts were unknown until January 2014, when officials discovered pieces of his body washed up onto the College Point shoreline. Willis, 9, had a similar fate. His body was discovered in the Raccoon River in Iowa in 2008.
The bill, originally proposed by U.S. Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY) in March, aims to protect young kids with autism and other mental disabilities by placing a tracking device on the children that alerts teachers or guardians when they wander off. The bill would provide $10 million in funds for training programs to deal with teens with autism and other mental disabilities to prevent any chances of them disappearing.
The voluntary tracking system will be similar to ones used on Alzheimer’s patients. The devices vary from anklets or bracelets to ones whichcan more subtly be placed on belt loops or shoe laces. If a child disappears, caretakers alert the manufacturers, which then alert first responders.
Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), who collaborated on the
legislation with Schumer, believes this law will make sure fewer families have to face what Kevin and Avonte’s family went through.
“The feeling of dread and helplessness families must feel when a loved one with Alzheimer’s or autism goes missing is unimaginable,” he said “But with the Senate’s approval of Kevin and Avonte’s Law, we are one important step closer to increasing the chances of a positive ending to many of these nightmares. This bipartisan bill applies proven community alert systems to help locate people with Alzheimer’s, dementia, autism and related disorders who may be susceptible to wandering away from safety. It also supports training for first responders and other community officials to better prevent and respond to these cases.”
According to the Interactive Autism Network, around 49 percent of autistic teens run away. It can be the result of sensory overload and lack of impulse control.
In a statement Avonte’s family lawyer, David Perecman, expressed gratitude to those who pushed the law to be passed.
“We at the Perecman firm are proud to have been a part of the process that has brought Kevin and Avonte’s Law this far along,” he said “We want to thank Sen. Schumer and his hardworking staff along with Sen. Grassley. I am sure Vanessa, Avonte’s mom, is happy that some good comes out of such a dark time in her life.”