Avonte Oquendo Search Update: Attorney Says School Couldn't Access Surveillance Footage After Avonte Disappeared
New information has come to light about the disappearance of 14-year-old Avonte Oquendo, who has now been missing for two and a half months.
New York Public Radio (WNYC) reports that there were mistakes made by school officials after Oquendo, who is severely autistic and nonverbal, ran out of his school in Long Island City on Oct. 4.
Oquendo's family attorney reported to WNYC that it took school officials an hour to call Avonte's mother after he ran away, and almost two hours before they could review the school's surveillance footage, according to PIX 11.
Avonte ran away by slipping out of a side door, and has not been seen since.
The family is still hoping to find their son, and work every day to bring him home. They have an official Facebook page, Official Help Find Avonte, to get the word out about what people can do to pitch in with the search effort. The page has a PayPal account that allows people to donate money to cover expenses for items that are needed during the search.
The family is also imploring people to volunteer to help with the search by distributing fliers. The address of the Avonte Oquendo search headquarters is 21-81A 24th Street Astoria, NY 11105, and the phone number is 718-606-6610.
Avonte Oquendo's mother, Vanessa Fontaine, spoke recently to the Queens Gazette about her son's disappearance.
"We want to get word out that Avonte is still missing," Fontaine said. "When he first disappeared, dozens of volunteers showed up to help with the search. We understand that people have their own lives, their own priorities," Fontaine said. "But we need volunteers to go out and look for him. We need people who can spread the word that Avonte is still missing."
As of Dec. 1, police said they have received close to 900 tips on the NYPD Crime Stoppers Hotline. Almost every tip has been investigated, but to no avail. Investigators have also viewed close to 1,000 videos, but they have not been able to locate the missing teen. The tapes have led to the discovery of two other missing children, however.
The search for Avonte has expanded into New Jersey, Long Island, Westchester and parts of upstate New York.
"He is extremely shy around strangers," family members said. "So we are telling anyone who might see him to approach him very calmly. Print his name on a piece of paper and if he responds, call 911 immediately," family members said. "Stay with him because he is likely to try to run away. Call 911 and give the operator any new location he may take you to."
Fontaine believes that her son is alive, and that he was most likely abducted by a stranger shortly after he left his school.
"Someone has him," she said. "We just have to keep looking until we find him and bring him home."
"Right now we need volunteers who can give us any amount of time to help with the search," an organizer said. "We need extra eyes on the street during the holiday season when hundreds of people are rushing around. We have to get people out there to look through the crowds, in case he's out there with someone."
The family is also mailing fliers to households and businesses in the city.
"It's the first time that information on a missing child will be mailed to households," Fontaine said. "So many people tell us they didn't know Avonte was missing because they don't watch television, listen to the radio or read newspapers. People may not watch the TV news or read newspapers, but everyone gets their mail. These mailings will put the disappearance and Avonte's photo in their hands, so they have to know he is missing."
Anyone with information on his whereabouts should call the Crime Stoppers Hotline at 800-577-TIPS or go to www.nypdcrimestoppers.com.