Family of missing autistic Queens boy to sue city
The family of an autistic boy who went missing from his school in Long Island City almost a full week ago is suing the city.
Avonte Oquendo, 14, was apparently caught on video camera leaving his school around 12:40 p.m. on Oct. 4. School staff noticed he was missing shortly after that when they were rounding up kids in the cafeteria to go back to class after lunch. There had been a fight between other students in the cafeteria, and it seemed that in the melée, Oquendo had been able to wander off unnoticed.
But the family’s lawyer, David Perecman, said Oquendo’s mother wasn’t called by the school until 1:40 p.m.
Moreover, he said, a school security guard later told Oquendo’s grandmother that she saw Oquendo leaving.
The guard reportedly confronted Oquendo, who is non-verbal. When she asked him where he was going and he didn’t answer, she let him go.
Oquendo’s school is a mix of special needs and mainstream students, and the guard reportedly told the grandmother she had assumed Oquendo was mainstream.
“We think the system makes no sense,” Perecman said, incredulous that a security guard standing at an exit would allow a “14-year-old with the brain capacity of a 7-year-old, who can’t speak” to just leave the school.
“Also,” Perecman added, “there’s the question of: What happened with this hour?”
Perecman said Oquendo’s mother arrived at the school about an hour after she was called, so at that point Oquendo had ostensibly been off the premises for about two hours. And yet she found school staff had spent all that time looking for Oquendo inside the school, even though the school security agent later told the boy’s grandmother that she had seen him leave.
Perecman said he doesn’t know when school officials first reviewed the security tape that showed Oquendo leaving the premises, but that his mother remembers it being shown to her.
The school also had Oquendo’s mother make an announcement over the P.A. system when she arrived.
“As if he still might be in school,” Perecman said in disbelief.
Oquendo is in the ninth grade at Center Boulevard School in Long Island City. He learns in classroom settings with five other special needs students, an instructor and a parent, Perecman said.
Perecman filed a notice of claim with the comptroller’s office Thursday, the first step in proceeding with a possible lawsuit.
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