by Alice A '18 by Samantha V '18

The Case of Avonte Oquendo

Avonte Oquendo is an autistic boy that was lost in Long Island City on October 4, 2013 at 12:38 pm after he left the Riverside School he attended. Avonte can not speak and is 14 years old, 5’ 3” tall and weighs 125 lbs. When last seen, Avonte was wearing a grey striped shirt, black jeans and black sneakers.
Avonte Oquendo has autism, which is an overlapping term for many disorders that result in abnormal brain functions, poor dexterity and other problems relating to mental and physical health. Tens of millions of children are diagnosed with autism. Autism shows mainly at two to three years old with the child’s slow developing rate. Research shows that the disorders may come from a mixture of faulty genes and conditions during pregnancy and early childhood such as elderly parents, illnesses of the mother and lack of oxygen to the brain.
Many autistic people have extraordinary abilities in math, logic and the like but some autistics like Avonte are actually intellectually disabled with their autism and cannot live without aid. Avonte is nonverbal, a condition accredited to his Autism, and though he can express his needs in other ways he can not scream for help or inform others that he is lost or who he is. Avonte is at risk of dying from starvation because he cannot feed himself or ask others for assistance with his basic needs.
The Riverside School that Avonte attended is partially a district 75 school. District 75 is a program in the New York City school system that provides additional support from physical therapy to counseling to challenged students with various forms of autism and students that have mental and physical shortcomings in order to help them fit into the school community and excel at school.
Avonte was able to leave his school site, which also caters to non-district 75 students, by leaving his one-on-one aid and evading the school security guard. Avonte wandered away from his class and was approached by a security guard upon trying to exit the front door of the school. The security guard asked what Avonte was doing in the hallway and received no answer as the teen walked away. He escaped through a back door of the school and was not stopped by anyone else before he left the building. The school ordered lockdown an hour after he disappeared.
The search for Avonte turned to the subway system as police dogs traced Avonte’s scent to the local subway stop before it disappeared. Avonte seemed to be fascinated by trains, making it easy to assume the boy was once on the many subway lines of New York City, which, instead of narrowing results instead broadened where Avonte could have escaped to in the weeks he had been missing. This is not the first time Avonte escaped. Many other times Avonte has run away and has been found on the subway lines.
The NYPD have been very active in searching for Avonte. Because the school Avonte attended borders the East River, diving teams searched the river to possibly find a body to provide closure for Avante’s family but came up empty-handed. The police are also checking shoplifting records expecting that Avonte perhaps stole some food and was detained. If Avonte is hiding, police have set cameras detecting body heat within crevices and elevator shafts. The police are also trying to spread awareness within the communities of NYC by announcing descriptions of the boy on the subway and identifying exactly was Avonte was wearing when last seen. To draw Avonte to the search, police are using the recorded voice of Avonte’s mother to lure him to safety. The possibility that Avonte was kidnapped in order to harm him or help him is possible and police interviewed known sex assaulters. Those  extensive searches have lacked results but are nowhere near done as dogs, police officers and emergency personnel continue to scour the city.
The family of the missing boy urges New Yorkers to help search for Avonte, give out flyers to spread awareness of their missing son. The parents of the missing boy set up a tent outside of his Long Island City school where volunteer groups can gather. Numerous volunteers man the camp in hopes of a tip from the public and regulate volunteer groups to search for the boy. Volunteers work on foot, in private cars or ride the subway looking for Avonte or spreading awareness through flyers. They do many jobs after being grouped at the tent based on what they are comfortable using their time for. For example, two Saturdays after Avonte was lost volunteer groups were sent out to ride the A-train in search of the boy, while others were manning the exits of a local farmers market, asking patrons if they had spotted Avonte in the great fuss of the market. Small groups were asked to help spread awareness to secluded sections of Bronx and Far Rockaways were the search was not as extensive.


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