ANGY ALTAMIRANO AND CRISTABELLE TUMOLA
After the search for autistic Rego Park teen Avonte Oquendo ended tragically, hundreds of mourners came out to say goodbye at his funeral Saturday, where he was remembered as a silent yet always smiling, courageous boy.
Family and friends gathered at a private ceremony held at the Greenwich Village Funeral Home in Manhattan, where a “beautiful silence” took over the room, said Leslie Burch, a close family friend. Also among those paying respects was actress Holly Robinson Peete, whose son has autism.
Avonte’s father is consoled before a service for his son at the Greenwich Village Funeral Home.
Mourners then made their way to St. Joseph’s Church, just a few blocks away, where a public mass was led by former Archbishop of New York Edward Michael Egan.
“He was a strong, courageous young man who handled the struggle with autism with tremendous greatness and true nobility,” said Egan, standing next to a large portrait of Avonte wearing a blue striped shirt, which was also handed out on prayer cards.
Egan also took the time to thank and recognize the efforts that went into the nearly four month search for the missing 14-year-old after he was last seen at the Center Boulevard School in Long Island City on Oct. 4.
Avonte’s mother waits to place a white rose on her son’s casket.
Officials confirmed Tuesday that remains found washed up along the East River in College Point last week were those of Avonte. The cause and manner of death are pending on future tests, according to the medical examiner.
“Police officers and various agencies of our beloved city made it no less clear that they too knew how precious Avonte was,” said Egan.
Although Avonte’s family decided not to speak during the services Saturday, his mother, together with his brothers and other mourners, laid white roses on top of his white casket following the release of doves outside of the church.
Another family member that attended the service was Avonte’s cousin and best friend 20 –year-old Noah Javan Conti from Woodside who is mildly autistic.
Rocopra Conti, who raised Noah and also attended the funeral, remembers the last time he saw Avonte. That day the teen grabbed Rocopra’s face and gave him one last look.
Noah Javan Conti, Avonte’s cousin and best friend, and Rocopra Conti.
“That was the last moment we shared,” said Rocopra. “I knew how to love him, I knew what he was feeling. I just wish I could have done more.”
Family attorney David Perecman, who spoke at the funeral mass, said that even though the search was concluded, the story is not finished yet.
“I must ask all of you, I ask that this not be the last chapter in this very sad story. We must have at least one more,” said Perecman. “This loss that this family has of Avonte cannot be in vain, we must find out how to fix our schools, we must find out how to fix the system of security that failed this boy.”
There have been conflicting reports on how Avonte, who could not verbally communicate and was supposed to be supervised at all times, managed to leave his school the day he went missing.
Following the identification of her son, Vanessa Fontaine filed suit against the City of New York on Wednesday in Manhattan Supreme Court, according to court records.
Fontaine filed the court action demanding the NYPD release records relating to the disappearance of Avonte, according to published reports.
Perecman also said he will be filing a $25 million negligence claim against the city, focused on the Department of Education, for wrongful death.