Friday, October 18, 2013

The Search for Avonte Oquendo

This post was compiled sourcing ABC and CBS News.  It concerns Avonte Oquendo, a 14-year-old kid from Queens who suffers from severe autism.  He is non-verbal and has "the mental capacity of a 7-year-old."  He has been missing for two weeks, and the search to recover him is reaching a frantic note.

It is all very sad and scary and I have been following the story in the papers, on television, and in person as there are missing person posters plastered all over the city and police officers passing out flyers on the streets, particularly near subway stations.  Avonte's case is a disturbing reminder of the social dangers that face children with intellectual impairments, particularly as I am still dealing with my own case in Msaranga.  It is clear that we, all over the world,  must take responsibility for these children, arm them with as much awareness as possible, and care for them if they cannot care for themselves.

Avonte has not been seen since October 4th when he ran away from the Center Boulevard School in Long Island City.  Across the street from the school, police have set up a mobile command center and the family has been holding a vigil in two tents where they wait for word.

NYC Police Commissioner Ray Kelly says that the NYPD has recently expanded its search for Avonte beyond the city because the child is fascinated with trains and may have gotten aboard one, perhaps to New Jersey or beyond.  They have also intensified their efforts with police using helicopters and additional officers on foot and boats.  Divers also searched the East River near the school.  Because of the boy's love of trains, much of the search has been focused on the subways.  The NYPD says all 468 stations in the system as well as all tunnels, bathrooms, and abandoned stations have been searched. 

Avonte has previously been found at various train stations.  Most recently, in August after he wandered away from home, family members found him at the 67th Avenue Station in Forest Hills.  Five years ago, he took the subway from Jamaica to Kew Gardens/Union Turnpike Station where he was found by transit police.  And seven years ago, he was found at the Fresh Pond Road Station in Ridgewood.

The failure to find Avonte thus far has led the family to think he may have been abducted.  "I think someone has to have him.  If he has been out and about someone would have seen him," said his brother Danny Oquendo Jr., who came up from his home in Orlando to help with the search.  "New York is a big city but there are millions of people that would have had the opportunity to see him if he was on trains wandering around."

Roc Conti, a cousin said, "If somebody does have him, release him, because he can't even tell on you.  Write a note, put it in his pocket, write a note on his forehead, send him off."

And his grandmother, Doris McCoy who is convinced someone has her grandson and that he is still alive, begged, "Please bring him back, don't keep him if you have him.  Be good to him.  Don't abuse him.  Don't hurt him."
Family attorney David Perecman says Avonte's special education learning plan calls for "constant supervision," but Avonte is clearly seen in the school video with no supervision whatsoever.  Says Perecman, "The family doesn't know where their son is, and at the very least, they should know how he went missing, they are entitled to that."

Police are also playing a recording of the 14-year-old's mother out of emergency response vehicles hoping the boy will hear it.  The message says, "Hi Avonte, it's Mom.  Come to the flashing lights, Avonte."

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