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?
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