Avonte Oquendo’s family has broken its silence for the first time since the teen’s remains were found on the College Point shore in January.
Avonte’s older brother, Danny Oquendo, released an open letter thanking the thousands of volunteers who helped comb the city in search of the 14-year-old autistic boy who disappeared from a Long Island City school in October.
“Overcome with grief and hopelessness, there was only one place we could turn to for help: the people of New York City,” Danny wrote in his letter, which he released on the Autism Speaks website.
Avonte, who could not speak, was last seen on video running through the Riverview school’s halls before darting out of an open door.
Word quickly spread about the boy’s disappearance, and before long thousands of people signed up to help find Avonte. Missing posters with Avonte’s photo were plastered all over the city.
“The community came together for a common cause in such an unparalleled way that it renewed my faith in the kindness of humanity. The people of New York responded to our anguish with a tremendous amount of support and vigilance,” Oquendo said. “Thanks to our large numbers of volunteers, we had the ability to disperse teams of people into every corner of NYC equipped with fliers, flashlights and the undying urge to bring Avonte home. No borough was left unturned.”
That search ended tragically in February when the city’s medical examiner confirmed the remains found in College Point were those of Avonte.
The medical examiner was, however, unable to determine the cause of Avonte’s death because his remains were so deteriorated by the time they were found.
Avonte’s family announced through their attorney they plan to sue the city for a wrongful death claim.
“This all could have been avoided if the school system had only ensured that schools were better equipped to handle children with autism,” Oquendo said. “While we may never know what exactly happened to my younger brother, what we can do is help to avoid this tragic event from happening again.”
In his letter, Oquendo pushed for changes in the security systems of schools to head off a similar occurrence.
“Sadly, our school systems currently don’t share the same concerns as the families that raise these children,” he said. “Let this tragic occurrence be the surge that builds up enough momentum to provide a real solution to the problematic issues that this hardship has brought to our attention. Let us do what is necessary to allot more funding for schools so they can provide their staff with proper training and implement appropriate security measures that would prevent another incident like this.”
He also commended the efforts of U.S. Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.), who pushed for legislation called “Avonte’s Law,” which would provide funding for GPS tracking devises for children with autism.
The boy’s mother, Vanesa Fontaine, filed court papers in January challenging the NYPD to release information about his disappearance.
She hopes to reverse the Police Department’s denial of a Freedom of Information Law request her lawyer filed on her behalf in October that asked for any information about the investigation into Avonte’s disappearance.
The NYPD told her lawyer it was waiting for the medical examiner’s findings to be released before it shared details of its investigation, but Fontaine still has not received any information, her lawyer said.
Reach reporter Alex Robinson by e-mail at arobinson@
©2014 Community News Group
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