“Come to the flashing lights Avonte.” ~ Vanessa Fontaine, Avonte’s mother
Fourteen year old Avonte Oquendo, a severely autistic teen from New York City, has been missing for two weeks. He doesn’t speak and has trouble performing many basic tasks on his own according to his mother, Vanessa Fontaine’
He was last seen on school video cameras at the Center Boulevard School in the Long Island City section of Queens by a school safety agent on duty at the front door. The videotape shows Avonte walking down the hall, and exiting the school through a side door.
Avonte has an affinity for trains so subway tunnels to train yards are being scoured by police and volunteer search teams.
A van from Citywide Disaster Services, using a recording of Avonte’s mother’s voice, tours the Queens neighborhood near where Avonte disappeared.
Police have also elicited the help infra-red cameras that detect heat signatures of live bodies, multi language missing posters and even psychics to locate the teenager. A $70, 000 award is being offered for Avonte’s safe return to his family, who are frantic.
Recently the teen’s family has indicated that they may file a lawsuit against the city, angered over the fact that Avonte, who needs constant supervision, was able to just walk out of the school without an aide. The school waited an hour before notifying police and his parents that he was missing according to interviews.
New York’s police commissioner James Kelly, however, says the school safety officer, who was the last person to see the boy did nothing wrong.
“We have spoken to the school safety agent who was on duty at the front door. We looked at the video tape. She directs the young man to go back upstairs [when] he’s just at the front door.
“He goes down the hall and actually exits the building from a side door. You see nothing after this juncture that shows the conduct of the school safety agent was inappropriate or there was any misconduct involved.” says Kelly.
Really? Ms. Fontaine’s attorney, David Perecman, questioned why a side door would even be unlocked and unguarded in a school with autistic students. He also questioned whether it was sufficient for the guard to simply tell Avonte to return to his class, or should he have followed to make certain he did. Or at least contact someone else to have done so, I’d say.
“They dropped the ball; there’s no other way to put it,” Daniel Oquendo Sr., Avonte’s father, told the New York Daily News. “He was seen, but nobody did anything!”
One thing’s for sure, either Avonte’s family has some pull, or — and not to devalue in any way the importance of the safe return of that boy to his mother — the commissioner is envisioning the possible repercussions of a lawsuit. Many in black neighborhoods have repeatedly complained that less effort and media attention are given to missing black children, than white ones. There have also been calls for more and better security to be provided in city schools. In response, The New York City Police Department is pulling out all the stops to find Avonte. Mr. Kelly said Wednesday,
“We’re using a significant amount of resources to look for this young man,”
And the police department has devoted a significant number of officers to the search and has deployed water and air search teams to aid in the effort.
A psychic’s tip sent police to search a tunnel in the East Village section of Manhattan, but there was no sign of Avonte.
The family told CBS New York that they believe Avonte is alive.
I hope so.
Avonte was last seen wearing a gray striped shirt, black jeans and black sneakers, police said. He is 5 foot 3 inches tall and weighs 125 pounds.
Anyone with information is asked to call the NYPD’s Crime Stoppers Hotline at 800-577-TIPS. You can also submit tips by logging onto the Crime Stoppers website at www.nypdcrimestoppers.com.