Finding Avonte: How Can We Keep Children With Autism Safe?

BY: - 12 Oct '13 | Missing People of Color

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At 12:38 pm on Friday, October 4th, surveillance footage shows 14-year old Avonte Oquendo running out of The Riverview School in Long Island City, Queens. Avonte is autistic and nonverbal. What haunts me about this footage is that no one stopped him from leaving. One second we see Avonte running out of the school building and then the next second we see him running down the block.

News reports indicate that Avonte had a one-to-one paraprofessional assigned to him at school. This part of the story blew me away. I know how hard it is for special education students to get one-to-one supervision in New York City. Parents have to fight for it…every time. I know because I have been there.

This type of supervision is mostly needed for special education students who may have behavioral or safety challenges. Sometimes it is also needed for students who have a hard time paying attention in class. The latter was the reason why Angel had a one-to-one in preschool.

So where was Avonte’s one to one on October 4th? Why did he or she leave Avonte unattended? Why was Avonte allowed to run out of the school building? Why didn’t the security guard stop him from leaving? Why did it take the school one hour to notify Avonte’s family that he was missing?

Let’s face it, The Riverview School failed Avonte. The New York City’s Department of Education also failed Avonte. Their negligence led to a young boy wandering off school property. Their negligence has led to a young boy being missing for over a week.

Many have criticized Avonte’s parents for taking the first step toward filing a law suit against the  NYC Department of Education by filing a claim. I agree with them.The Department of Education should be held liable. What precedent does this set if schools are not held accountable when a child wanders and goes missing or is harmed on their watch? Contrary to what critics have said, the filing of this claim in no way diminishes the intense efforts that Avonte’s family have put into finding him.


Wandering is a real and scary reality in the autism community. According to the National Autism Association’s Awaare Collaboration Initiative, nearly half of the people with autism wander. They also define wandering as “… the tendency for an individual to try to leave the safety of a responsible person’s care or a safe area, which can result in potential harm or injury.”

Avonte’s disappearance has hit home for many special-needs parents like me. We spent the last week sharing Avonte’s flyer on social media and in our neighborhoods. We have also spent the last week researching devices and items that we can get to keep our children safe. During my research, I learned that there are no companies with tracking devices that service New York City. We are left with shoe tags and dog tags or items we can put on our children with our contact information.

After some discussion with fellow parents on Facebook, I started this petition to ask the NYPD to bring Project Lifesaver to New York City. This program provides a tracking device that can reduce the search time for people with the tendency to wander. This includes those with autism.

As we share and put up flyers, we are also demanding that the mainstream media increase their coverage of this story. We need more eyes and ears to know about Avonte to increase the chances of his safe return. All missing people regardless of skin color deserve to be reported on in the media. I implore all news organizations to bring nationwide coverage to this story. I also applaud those who are reporting on this story.

Please visit the AWAARE Web site to learn more about wandering and autism. If you have any information about Avonte, please call the NYPD Crime Stoppers at 800-577-TIPS. Autism Speaks and several reward partners are offering a reward that is now more than $70,000 to anyone providing information that leads to Avonte’s safe return.

What strategies do you use to keep your child with autism safe?

About the author

Kpana Kpoto wrote 38 articles on this blog.

Kpana Kpoto, also known as Miz Kp, is a special needs advocate and blogger. She provides resources and support for autism parents through her blog, Sailing Autistic Seas and her support group, Bronx Parents Autism Support Circle. Kpana lives in New York City with her husband and only child, six-year old "Angel" who is conquering autism one milestone at a time.


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30 WordPress comments on “Finding Avonte: How Can We Keep Children With Autism Safe?

  1. Chad Royer

    First off, I just want to offer my support and prayers to Avonte and his family during such a difficult time. Secondly, I want to personally and directly address those who fault the parents of Avonte for filing a “claim” to do a lawsuit. What is wrong with filing a claim for a lawsuit? Clearly, someone in the school was negligent in allowing the incident to take place. Just imagine if it happened to you and you knew that negligence was involved, wouldnt you want to seek justice by any means necessary? Wouldnt you want to yell at the principal for the inadequacies of the school? Wouldnt you want to yell at the police for not cooperating with a missing child situation? Wouldnt you not know what to do? All of these things can happen and the fact that the school has some knowledge of Avonte’s condition makes this case very hard to trust the Board of Education. Those who blame the same parents who continue to fight for the rights of our special needs children should be ashamed of their ignorance and take the time to understand why this case is important, why autism is affecting our kids, how special needs children are in need of services and how difficult it is to provide for their needs. The school is wrong. An innocent child is missing. A family is grieving and so am I!

      1. Caring

        Please post the link for the petition other than facebook so that all organizations could get involved. I’m a former Parent Association President with ties to the community and I would love to help with this petition. At the school I volunteered my time, I witness the lack of importance to the student’s IEP. However, they made it their business to summit a CEP, that only read lies to get that money .”turn around” These kids were not getting the services they were entitled to. With this said, I learned how the DOE works, and how each single person cover for one another (Administration). Parents are told what they want you to know and the sad part is that many don’t get involved/know. I’m praying every night for this child/our child now because of him the injustice and lack of services provided for autistic kids will change. Also note there is a tracking device in a form of a bracelet, the problem is autistic kids will try to take it off, maybe it should be made kid friendly such as having his or her favorite character logo on it? Just an idea. Pray and please parents let’s practice the same traditions when we were younger. Parents taking their kids to school and pick them up when possible, have the direct contact number of the person who you can call just to check on your child. Show up at the school un-announced just to check up on your child, go to PA meetings, you will hear what’s going on at the school you might have not known. Also the more involved you are the more attention your child will get. Sad to say this but is true, they will be careful of keeping your child out of trouble and safe just to keep you out of their face. Now, let’s keep praying for his safe return and pray for his family to find the strength to see this to the end. It takes less than a minute to give your child a kiss/hug and his/her blessings before walking out the door and the same when they return, You never know what could happen. I do it everyday and my 16 year old who feels he too grown for this he just gave in. God bless everyone, keep up the good work and suggest parents to get involved. Learn all school regulations 660 and 665 you will learn a lot.

  2. Susana

    So sad! Praying praying for him and his family members. I hope more organizations donate even more money to alert more people to be on the look out. I also would suggest that they work with Ms. Wendy from NAA. She seems to be very experienced in this type of cases. Maybe the national guard should also be involved or some type of Squad Team experienced in finding people. Maybe, announced that if someone has him to safely return him to a hospital I am thinking in case they are afraid to turn him in. Time is crucial! This is the piece I feel the school fails the most. Why wait to start the masive and experienced search. I think from the security guard to the principal, everyone, must be 100% aware and educated about wandering tendencies. Most parents are and most of the time parents deal with their kids 1:1. Let’s continue to pray and pray, and to be in the look out, plus handle it more professionaly as the case requires.

    1. Kpana Kpoto

      Thanks for commenting, Susana. Wendy indicated on Twitter that the NAA has been in touch with the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children and their Team Adam is assisting. I love your ideas and will share on the Missing Avonte Facebook page. The National Guard should get involved. You raise good points. Crucial time was lost in the beginning. I am continuing to pray.

  3. Nicksmommy

    I look at this boy and I see my seven year old non verbal autistic son. He can’t possible be on the streets, he would have been spotted already. Whoever has this boy, please let him go home.

    The NYC board of education is responsible for what happened and that lawsuit will change the lives of many of our children because it will bring on the necessary changes to protect our children.

    1. Kpana Kpoto

      The decision from this lawsuit will indeed affect our children for years to come. It is time to hold the DOE accountable. No more half stepping. I am also hoping that if someone does have Avonte, they can just take him to a hospital of firehouse or church and leave him there. I hope today is the day is found.

  4. Musubah

    Thanks for your efforts. Please sign the petition to make lifesaving devices accessible to our autistic children and others. My heart goes out to this family and others who search for ways to help protect our children.

  5. Renee

    I am a NYC special education teacher to LD students, and I was quite shocked to learn about this. It’s unacceptable when students are left sleeping on buses, but this takes negligence to another level. I hope that your suggestion for tracking devices is implemented. It is unfortunate that an incident such as this would now necessitate their use.

    On another note, I wish that parents and guardians would raise an alarm about the DOE and the UFT in regard to IEPs being done in a timely manner!

  6. Danielle

    Everyday I pray for this young boy and his family. His story really hit home and the mere fact that last year my at the time five year old son was able to run out of his NYC DOE school building three times helped me realize we as a community must help this family find their baby. I can only imagine what his family and friends must be going through because each time I leave my house, or view social media sites, and watch the news and see Avonte’s picture my heart starts to pound and I worry as if he were my own. I really hope we find him and bring him back to his family and safe zone.

  7. Kelly

    My heart breaks thinking about Avonte. This could be my child. In fact, on Tuesday, my son’s teacher called to inform me that HE attempted to leave the classroom twice. This is a living nightmare for Avonte and his family. Praying very hard that he is found.

    1. Kathy Pereya

      I have two autistic adult children; one is still non-verbal, the other “more toward Asperger’s”: higher functioning [quite verbal] but with some cognitive difficulties. When the older one was five and was in program, this was my constant fear, yet the staff just laughed it off when he was discovered [yes thankfully they stopped him] running across the field in the middle of a football game at the school when he was four of five, when he got away from his teachers. We eventually decided to home school him [and his younger brother] until he could better communicate. What got to me was all the attitude about being ‘overprotective’. Excuse me? These children could not communicate but could bolt at will. No one can watch out for a special needs child like his/her parent. And no one can make decisions for their child except the parent.

  8. Caring

    Please go on face book and put this post on it, so at the same time the petition could be signed. The face book page is: Bring Avonte Home. I read many parents of autistic kids commenting their concern and frustration with the DOE, tracking devices and more. Please share.

    1. Caring

      Hi there,
      I will try my best to post it on facebook. I’m still trying to get the hang of it. I only got on facebook after seeing the news regarding Avonte.

  9. Caring

    As I sat with my child, we started talking about Avonte. I was wondering if he knows sign language? Also, it seems suspicious how Avonte figured out to leave the school through the side door? There were dogs used to pick up his scent, and they picked up Avonte’s scent close to the school and also close to some station. Have his parents contacted any psychics independently? I’m also sad to see that Avonte’s story is fading just like mamy others. Please, don’t loose hope, keep praying and parents stay involved in your child school.

  10. Caring

    There’s a website called Stir, this website has open comments regarding Avonte. It breaks my heart to read the cruel comments posted by many. I say that for those who don’t have or know any update on Avonte. Avonte has ran away at least 3 times prior to this one. Eventually, he was found. Avonte “DOES get on trains” all on his own. I’m quite surprised that his parents didn’t invest on a tracking device, plan, or sign in case he did it again. I am aware is expensive but maybe they could. Invest in one when he returns.(positive thinking). Also note, Avonte’s family will not be accepting any more contributions because who ever has him probably has not let him go due to expecting more money. I was amazed to read that there have been numerous missing AUTISTIC children/teens/adults since April its been increasing. This thing is scary. I’ve been turning the white candle every day for Avonte’s safe return. Pray for all those who need to be found. I also pray for GOD to let us find a sign that leads us to Avontes wherabouts. Maybe they should consider hiring a private detective since they are scaling back on avontes search. For those who don’t understand why there was so much publicity is because it happened during school hours, on their watch, and on their time. Sue the DOE and keep up the fight to keep the search going. His family has a right to sue, he wasn’t dismissed from school and he went missing (the story would be different) it happened during school hours. All I could do is pray,pray and pray. I just read on stir that we probably find avontes dead body in a month or so. They are so cruel this is just comments people posted.

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  12. Mccarthy

    I have been looking for missing kids for years. I am a mother of an autistic child.
    Here is why I stopped posting

    when your child goes missing your out looking for him. Attorneys etc will be around forever. You don’t eat, sleep.
    The family hindered the investigation from the start.
    Grab him/don’t grab him
    shirts. Only ones approved by family.
    They thought someone had him? Really? It would be a great difficulty to do so.
    hindered monies donated.

    I’m a mom, nurse, my son is a runner as well. Went missing. Had the horror. Children with special needs is my speciality.

    It didn’t matter who found him a priest or biker.

    earlier videos show mom smiling.


    you home school. Protect your child. They live in upscale part of NYC.
    you don’t trust this child with the school.

    I cried much over this case but stopped looking due to families rules.
    The world has no rules when your kid is lost in it.

  13. Barbara

    I will address this nurse/mother of an autistic child. I was really angered and turned off by your ignorant comments. What you failed to realize is that most parents may not be experts in handling children or young adults with autism, but casting blame is not the right thing to do. Avonte s parents did what they could with what they had, and there is no doubt that there was heavy miscommunication throughout the investigation where information requested was missing, hidden, omitted or left out. Also, the event happened on school grounds on school time and the school failed to protect the child. Even if the parents had Avonte in an inappropriate school, this doesn’t mean the parents are to blame as this occurrence can happen under various circumstances. For someone like you to position two titles (mom and nurse) to Say these things as if you are better than others is not Cool at all, and you give a bad name to nurses who really care about people. I rather die an instant death than be under medical supervision of a nurse like yourself. You should apologize for your ignorant and insensitive comments, but not to me, but to the readers of these posts who have autistic members of the families. But I can’t make you. Have a heart and be more sensitive because we are really grieving.

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Two Weeks Later: The Search for Avonte Oquendo Continues

BY: - 21 Oct '13 | Missing People of Color

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It has been two long weeks since Avonte Oquendo ran out of the Riverview School in Long Island City, Queens. Can you imagine not knowing where your child is for two weeks? I can’t. Avonte’s disappearance has mobilized the autism community and New York City in a way that can be described in three words: This Is Personal! I know that this is personal for me. I also have a son with autism who is at risk of wandering. This is the case for half of the individuals on the autism spectrum according to the National Autism Association.

Earlier this week, I went down to the “Blue Tent,” which has become the central command post for the NYPD and the Oquendo family.  When I got to the tent, the mood was somber as one would expect. I introduced myself to Danny Oquendo and told him I had come to help. He asked me where I was from and I told him I had come from the Bronx. He asked me to write my name and neighborhood on a notepad, so they can keep track of neighborhoods where people were searching.

Danny also told me that the Queens area has been saturated and they need help in other boroughs like the Bronx. He said Avonte liked tight spaces and they can’t send me into a building. I totally understood, so I offered to take some flyers to post back in my neighborhood.

Before I left, I told Danny that I am praying for him and praying that Avonte is brought home soon. He thanked me and I left. I left with the image of his face in my mind. He looked exhausted. He looked sad. He looked liked someone who was desperate to find his little brother. My heart broke for him as I walked away with flyers in hand. When I got back to the Bronx, I spent a few hours putting flyers up in my neighborhood. I remember this lady telling me that she saw someone who looked like Avonte before. My body jerked and I looked up at her hopeful. Then, she quickly said “but it wasn’t him.” My heart sank.

Where things stand now

  • Over the past week, the Oquendo family lawyer, David H. Perecman disclosed details from Avonte’s Individualized Education Program (IEP). We now know that Avonte was in a special education classroom with a 6:1:1 ratio. This means he was in a class of six students, one head teacher, and one aide. Contrary to earlier reports, Avonte did not have his own paraprofessional mandated on his IEP. Let us not get it twisted. This does not absolve the New York City Department of Education from being liable for Avonte’s running off school property and going missing.
  • Avonte has been missing for two agonizing weeks and the police do not have any new leads. The NYPD is using a van with a recording of Avonte’s mother’s voice. Their hope is that he will hear his mother and come out from where ever he is. Avonte’s mom, Vanessa Fontaine told Piers Morgan last night that she believes someone has her son. I am starting to believe that this could be true.
  • The Texas EquuSearch team will arrive in New York City on October 18 at the request of the Oquendo family. They are coming to determine if they have the resources needed to aid in the search for Avonte.
  • I also need to acknowledge that FINALLY Avonte’s disappearance is getting some mainstream media coverage. This is something that was lacking over the past two weeks. Avonte’s disappearance has been featured on major news networks including CNN and MSNBC.
  • Last night, Danny Oquendo tweeted out that the Revered Al Sharpton will be holding a community outreach rally at the National Action Network headquarters at 106 W. 145th Street, New York, NY on October 19th at 9:30 am. According to Danny Oquendo, Rev. Sharpton “will be issuing a ‘Red Alert’ and N.A.N members will pledge to canvas and search the city in search of Avonte.”

In the mean time, we will continue the search until he is found. If you have any information about Avonte, please call the NYPD Crime Stoppers at 800-577-TIPS. Autism Speaks and several reward partners are offering a reward that is now more than $70,000 to anyone providing information that leads to Avonte’s safe return.

What words of support can you give to the Oquendo family as they search for Avonte?


About the author

Kpana Kpoto wrote 38 articles on this blog.

Kpana Kpoto, also known as Miz Kp, is a special needs advocate and blogger. She provides resources and support for autism parents through her blog, Sailing Autistic Seas and her support group, Bronx Parents Autism Support Circle. Kpana lives in New York City with her husband and only child, six-year old "Angel" who is conquering autism one milestone at a time.


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