Close to six weeks have passed and although Avonte Oquendo’s whereabouts are still unknown, the search continues as hope in finding the autistic teen remains strong.
Avonte, 14, was last seen at the Center Boulevard School at 1-50 51st Avenue in Long Island City around 12:38 p.m. on Friday, October 4. There have been conflicting reports on how the Rego Park teen, who cannot verbally communicate and is supposed to be supervised at all times, managed to leave the school.
The NYPD and volunteers have been searching daily for the boy, whose family says loves trains. Police have searched for him by helicopter, with divers, and in patrol cars and search vans with loudspeakers echoing Avonte’s mother’s calls.
The command center for volunteers and family searching for the boy is now operating out of an RV located on the side of The Riverview School on Borden Avenue and Center Boulevard.
According to Andrew Baumann, president and CEO of New York Families for Autistic Children (NYFAC), this is not an isolated case. Children with autism are prone to running and throughout the country there have been many cases of children disappearing, he said.
“I don’t believe that anyone should give up hope on finding Avonte alive and in good condition,” Baumann said. “I don’t believe in giving up, these kids are really resilient.”
Baumann also said the teen’s family had no control over what happened because they trusted the school to take responsibility. He believes school security agents should hold back any child attempting to leave and report the incident to the principal.
“I don’t care how old the child is, no child should ever be allowed to walk out of the school during the school day,” Baumann said.
Last week Senator Charles Schumer called for the Department of Justice (DOJ) to both create and fund a program which would provide voluntary tracking devices for children with autism or other developmental disorders.
According to Baumann, these devices would and do work great, but there should be ways to make sure they are 100 percent effective and cannot be removed if the child were to take off their clothes.
“Now we need people to take action, if they see him they should stay with him until the police come,” said Baumann. “The reward is nothing. It shouldn’t be about the money and the reward, it should be about doing the right thing.”
If anyone sees Avonte, they should follow him and keep him within eye contact and call 9-1-1, said Baumann.
Since Avonte went missing, the reward to find him has increased to $95,000.
Avonte was last seen wearing a gray striped shirt, black jeans and black sneakers. He is 5’3” tall and weighs 125 pounds.
Anyone with information is asked to call Crime Stoppers at (800) 577-TIPS (8477). The public can also submit their tips by logging onto the Crime Stoppers website or can text their tips to CRIMES (274637), then enter TIP577. All calls are strictly confidential.