In wake of tragedy, ‘Avonte’s Law’ would fund tracking devices for autistic children
A day after her son’s funeral, Vanessa Fontaine silently stood in support of legislation that might have saved autistic teen Avonte Oquendo’s life.
“Our children are too precious to wait even one more day when life-saving precautions are right at our fingertips,” Sen. Charles Schumer said standing next to Fontaine to propose “Avonte’s Law” on Sunday.
The law would enable parents of children with autism to participate in a voluntary tracking program that could help authorities immediately find them if they go missing.
Tracking devices could be worn on belts, shoelaces, wristwatches or even stitched into clothing.
The bill would allocate $10 million to the Department of Justice for a grant program run by local police departments. A similar tracking program helps authorities locate people with Alzheimer’s.
Schumer will introduce the bill Monday.
The law was first proposed in November, a month after Avonte was last seen at his Long Island City school. After an exhaustive search, authorities matched human remains found on a Queens shoreline to Avonte last week.
Surveillance footage showed Avonte running from his school Oct. 4. Roughly half of children and teens with autism attempt to run or wander, according to a study conducted by the Interactive Autism Network and AWAARE.
Michael Rosen, executive vice president of Autism Speaks, said that when his 26-year-old autistic son was younger, he would wander, sometimes ending up on neighbors’ roofs. Every door in their house would be locked at night.
Tracking has been successful in cases where autistic children have gone missing, Rosen said.
“We didn’t have that advantage,” he said.
The bill would also fund training and education for parents, schools and police to aid families of autistic children who wander.
Avonte’s mother and grandmother, Doris McCoy, met privately with Schumer but weren’t ready to speak publicly about the bill Sunday. Hundreds of people joined the family to mourn during a memorial for Avonte in Manhattan on Saturday.
The family’s attorney, David Perecman, said many questions remain since Avonte disappeared, including how the teen was able to leave school.
“The goal today, because we can’t go back in time, is to make sure… never again,” Perecman said Sunday. “And this will help.”
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