Despite the efforts of hundreds of police officers, MTA track workers, family members and friends; helicopter lookouts; and even shutting down all subway work in the city, a 14-year-old Rego Park boy with autism has not been found after he managed to leave his Long Island City School unsupervised Oct. 4.
City officials and relatives said they are determined to find Avonte Oquendo, whose disappearance has left many questioning public schools’ ability to keep track of students – particularly such vulnerable pupils as Avonte, who cannot speak.
The 14-year-old was last seen on surveillance video running out of the Center Boulevard School, located on 51st Avenue in Long Island City, according to police. Once it was realized that Avonte was missing, all 468 of the city’s subway stations were searched for the boy who is particularly fascinated by trains.
Following the massive sweep of every subway station, Police Commissioner Ray Kelly announced this week he was enlisting the help of officials outside of the city, including in New Jersey and Long Island, to find the student whose disappearance has devastated his family. Police divers also searched Newtown Creek and the East River this week as part of the search effort.
Additionally, the commissioner said Monday that the reward for the safe return of the teen with autism has grown to $77,500.
“We have redoubled our efforts,” Kelly said in a televised newscast. “We have hundreds of police officers and detectives engaged in this search. We’ve enlisted the help of the guardian angels society, many volunteers.”
On Thursday, Councilman Jimmy Van Bramer (D-Sunnyside) and numerous volunteers will distribute information about the missing teen at train stations in Astoria, Long Island City, Sunnyside, and Woodside between 8 a.m. and 9:30 a.m.
Friends of the Oquendo family said volunteers are asked to come to 1-50 51st Ave., from where search efforts have been launched around the clock. More information can be found at www.findAvonte.com.
Family members of Avonte, as well as parents and special education advocates across the city, have questioned how Avonte was able to leave his school unsupervised, and attorney David Perecman has filed a claim against the city on behalf of the teen’s family. Schools Chancellor Dennis Walcott has said city officials are reviewing their procedures for such incidents and that the city Department of Education is working closely with police.
Police said Avonte is about 5-foot-3 and weighs approximately 125 pounds. He was wearing a grey striped shirt, black jeans and black sneakers the day he disappeared.
Anyone with information about the missing child should call the NYPD at (800) 577-TIPS. The public can also submit their tips by logging onto www.nypdcrimestoppers.com or texting tips to 274637 and then entering TIP577.
By Anna Gustafson