Avonte Oquendo still missing: search continues for lost autistic boy
As the search for 14-year-old Avonte Oquendo nears the two-week mark, Police Commissioner Ray Kelly said the police department has left no stone unturned.
“We’re obviously very concerned at this juncture,” Kelly said.
The Oquendo family’s lawyer, David Perecman, is suing the city over the boy’s disappearance. Last week, he recounted how a School Safety Agent, a member of the NYPD, reportedly told Avonte’s grandmother that she had seen him leaving and asked where he was going. When he didn’t respond — Avonte is autistic, and cannot communicate verbally — she let him go, Perecman said.
Today, Kelly said there is surveillance video disputing that report.
“She actually tells him to go back,” Kelly said.
Kelly said Avonte can be seen on the video slipping out an unguarded side door.
Police previously said Avonte has wandered off before, and a law enforcement official today recounted three known occasions.
When Avonte was about seven years old, he was found near the Fresh Pond subway, and when he was nine, he took the subway from his home in Jamaica to a station in Kew Gardens, where he got off and was found by transit police.
This past August, he wandered away from his home at 71st Avenue and was almost immediately found at the 67th Street subway station.
Because of this history and Avonte’s known fascination with trains and the subway in particular, police have kept a close eye on the underground transit system. Commissioner Kelly today said transit officers begin every tour of duty with a search for the young boy.
While Kelly said he had no updates as of Wednesday morning, he promised the NYPD was “using a significant amount of resources” in the search.
There is a special task force of detectives on the hunt for him, and Kelly has assigned an additional 50 uniformed officers whose sole duty for the time being is to look for Avonte full-time.
The school is located near the water, and divers and Harbor Unit police, as well as K-9 cops and NYPD helicopters, have also been helping.
Kelly today said “Operation Century,” a network of 140 law enforcement agencies throughout the Northeast, is also involved in in the search.
And in the city, a deluge of volunteers — from the Guardian Angels and the Vulcan Society to everyday citizens — have turned out to assist law enforcement and the family, posting fliers throughout the subway system and all over the city.
“We’re not giving up hope,” Avonte’s mother, Vanessa Fontaine, said firmly. “We’re just keeping on hope that we’ll find him anytime.”
She asked that New Yorkers stay vigilant in keeping an eye out for her son.
“Everyone just take a moment and look at every child that’s passing, and see if it’s him,” she urged. “And if you see him, don’t wait two hours or the next day… If you see him and you even think it’s him — call right away; stop that child!”
Oquendo’s autism has been a complicating factor in his disappearance: the fact that the boy is unable to communicate verbally has had authorities especially worried from the start. Fontaine said people should of course be cautious when approaching him, but not hesitate.
“Come up to him slowly, not aggressive, very slowly,” she said.
“Don’t try to grab him — he will pull back,” she warned.
Avonte will respond to his name, she said. She advised people “just follow him” and get the police on the phone.
“Say, ‘we’re heading this way.’ I’m sure police will get there quickly,” she said.
Fontaine was clearly moved by the outpouring of support for her and her child, and said she “can’t even count” how many people have come out and volunteered in the search.
“Thousands, from every community, every borough,” she marveled. “It’s beautiful. I’m so grateful for all their hard work and support towards me, it’s a beautiful thing.”
Follow Danielle Tcholakian on Twitter @danielleiat