Avonte Oquendo Search Update: Family Says FBI Will Not Take Up Case
The family of missing teen Avonte Oquendo has said the FBI will not take up Avonte's case.
Although the 14-year-old has now been missing for over three months, the FBI will not get involved in the investigation. The Oquendo family explained on the Official Help Find Avonte Facebook page that they are petitioning the FBI to take up the case, but their requests have been declined.
"We would like to clarify that we have sought the help of the FBI and had petitioned them to take the lead in the investigation regarding Avonte," they wrote in a statement on the Facebook page. "There are several legal reasons they gave us for not being legally permitted to take over the investigation. The most noted is that the NYPD has listed Avonte as a missing person, not a victim of kidnapping or other such federal offense(s) that would require the FBI's involvement.
"It is our deepest desire for the FBI to get involved but there is a system in place that requires protocol, we cannot force the FBI to get involved and we continually ask and pray they do," they continued. "We appreciate everyone's effort and tips and ask that you continually pray and volunteer to help find Avonte."
Avonte's mother, Vanessa Fontaine, previously said she believes her son was kidnapped. However, a lack of evidence precludes the FBI from taking the lead on the case.
Meanwhile, the family continues to search for Avonte, who was last seen running out of his school in Long Island City, Queens on Oct. 4. The holidays came and went, but there was no sign of the severely autistic teen.
Fontaine wanted nothing more than for her son to be home for Christmas, but that never happened.
"Very depressing not to have him home, it wasn't a Christmas," Fontaine told PIX 11.
The only information that has come to light regarding his disappearance has been a report that was recently released by the Department of Education. The family's attorney, David Perecman, obtained a report about his disappearance, which indicates negligence on the part of educators. Perecman said the occurrence report shows a "disturbing timeline."
Perecman said Avonte disappeared when his class was en route to a technology room. The timeline proves that a security camera showed Avonte on the fir st floor at 12:37. At 12:40 p.m., Avonte's teacher noticed he was missing.
Then at 12:56, the assistant principal was notified, proving there was a delayed response to his disappearance.
Perecman also 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.
PIX11 reached out to the Department of Education, and a spokesperson commented, "Avonte's disappearance is a heartbreaking situation, and Chancellor Walcott has spoken with Avonte's family and expressed his deep concern as Chancellor, as a parent and as a grandparent."
The case is under investigation by the Office of the Special Commissioner of Investigation.
"There's no question that based on this report that the NYPD was not contacted promptly," said Perecman.
Despite the search being in its third month, the Oquendo family is still hoping to find Avonte. They continue to implore 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.
Fontaine spoke recently to the Queens Gazette about her son's disappearance.
"We want to get word out that Avonte is still missing," she 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 continued. "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, 2013, 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 continues to hope that her son will be found.
"We'll find him, I'm positive we'll find him [...] and it will be happy," she said.
Anyone with information on his whereabouts should call the Crime Stoppers Hotline at 800-577-TIPS or go to www.nypdcrimestoppers.com.