NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) — A substantial reward is now being offered for the safe return of a 14-year-old autistic boy from Queens who has been missing for a week.
A 24-hour command center has been set near the Center Boulevard School in Long Island City where Avonte Oquendo was last seen. The teen was spotted on surveillance video leaving the school on Oct. 4.
Avonte is 5-foot-3 and weighs 125 pounds. He was last seen wearing a gray striped shirt, black jeans and black shoes.
“If you see him, please, please, call 911 or take him to a police station,” his mother, Vanessa Fontaine, said earlier this week.
Anyone with information is asked to contact NYPD Crime Stoppers at 800-577-TIPS, visit the Crime Stoppers website or text tips to 274637 (CRIMES) and enter TIP577.
Autism Speaks announced Friday that it has increased the reward from $50,000 to $70,000.
“When your child is somewhere and you don’t know I can’t even sleep. It feels like it’s not fair for me to be sleeping In a nice warm bed when my son could be out here,” Daniel Oquendo, the missing boy’s father, told CBS 2’s Dave Carlin on Friday night.
A vigil was held Friday evening as family members held out hope that Avonte would be found safe, 1010 WINS’ Sonia Rincon reported.
“There are so many people who understand what a difficult time this is and how important it is to try to find Avonte as soon as possible for his safe return,” Lisa Goring, vice president of family services at Autism Speaks, told 1010 WINS.
As for the family, they are trying to stay strong, CBS 2’s John Slattery reported.
“My hope has never been waning. We think he’s gonna be all right. Stay positive. It will all work out,” Daniel Oquendo said.
The family has been intensifying their search, tapping into social media and assigning volunteers to cover specific areas.
“We’ve pretty much covered all of Queens and Brooklyn,” said Avonte’s brother, Daniel Oquendo, Jr. “We’ve had at least 100 to a 150 people come by to help.”
Police Commissioner Ray Kelly said there are 100 NYPD officers are assigned to look for Avonte. He said they’re leaving no stone unturned.
“We have interviewed virtually everyone on the sexual predator registry in that area,” Kelly told reporters, including WCBS 880’s Rich Lamb.
Police patrols and volunteer patrols continue to search the area near the school and the family’s Rego Park home.
Police said they have received tips from people who claim to be psychics, offering suggested places to look. One such search took place Thursday night, a tunnel near Thompkins Square Park in Manhattan, Slattery reported. Nothing was found. His older brother said it’s unusual for Avonte to be out by himself.
“Not a minute goes by when he’s alone. When he leaves school, he’s with family. Not a moment of separation,” Daniel Oquendo Jr. said.
Because of the 14-year-old’s fascination with trains, Kelly said every bit of subway track and all stations, including those abandoned, are getting a second going over. He added the search may be expanded to NJ TRANSIT and the LIRR.
Police and volunteers have been passing out flyers and pictures of Avonte are plastered all over the city.
HOW AVONTE DISAPPEARED
“I’m just hoping he’s OK,” Fontaine said Thursday. “He finds some shelter from the rain, he’s not sick, he’s not passed out from not eating. It’s been days and days and days.”
Avonte cannot communicate verbally. Schools Chancellor Dennis Walcott said he was assigned to a group of six special needs kids who are supervised by one teacher and one paraprofessional.
The teen’s mother said she is upset that the surveillance video shows her son strolling off unabated.
“I can’t watch it. I can’t see him run off like that and nobody’s running behind him to say, ‘hey kid come back here.’ There’s no one,” Fontaine said.
Perecman started the ball rolling on a lawsuit against the city and school district over what he calls the security breakdown that allowed Avonte to walk right out the door of the school with no one the wiser.
“The worst part of this that I don’t understand is the gap in time from when he’s obviously gone until police are called and the school stops searching inside the school and starts searching outside the school,” Perecman told Carlin, adding when asked how long the gap was, “I’m getting varied accounts it appears 45 minutes to an hour or more.”
Earlier in the week Perecman said the school took too long to notify the boy’s mother about his disappearance.
“The school had ordered a lockdown and was looking for the child in the school for an hour before they even let mom know,” he said.
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