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Intense Search Presses On For Missing Autistic Teen

Avonte Oquendo, 14, Had Been Missing Since A Week Ago Friday
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NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) — An intense search continued Saturday for Avonte Oquendo, the missing autistic boy from Queens who vanished from his school more than a week earlier.

Avonte Oquendo – who is severely autistic and nonverbal — was last seen on Friday, Oct. 4, running from the Center Boulevard School in Long Island City, Queens.

On Saturday, the NYPD said dive teams turned up nothing in their search, and none of the tips from the public have panned out.

As 1010 WINS’ Gary Baumgarten reported, police have dedicated 100 officers to the search for Avonte. Officers and volunteer patrols also spent days combing the area near the school and the family’s Rego Park home.

“Out here, we continue our search for young Avonte. We have a full-fledged effort,” said NYPD Chief of Department Philip Banks III. “The entire department is taking part in searching for this young man.”

As 1010 WINS’ Sonia Rincon reported, Avonte’s father, Daniel Oquendo, said he has not slept in the last week.

“It feels like it’s not fair for me to be sleeping in a nice, warm bed when my son could be out here,” he said.

Because of the 14-year-old’s fascination with trains, the search has focused in particular on the subway system and rail yards. On Saturday, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority suspended all maintenance and instead ordered 200 track workers to comb tunnels and 468 stations in search of Avonte, according to published reports.

As WCBS 880’s Marla Diamond reported, the case is a very difficult one for law enforcement, according to Bob Lowery, senior executive director for the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children.

“Occasionally, we have seen children head straight for water hazards; active roadways, so we do see high mortality rates sometimes with these children,” he said.

This year alone, 14 children with autism have disappeared and died. But it does not always end tragically – in 2011, an 8-year-old boy with autism was found a week after his disappearance in a state park.

Autism Speaks announced Friday that it has increased a reward for Avonte’s return from $50,000 to $70,000.

Autism Speaks vice president for family services Lisa Goring talked about the case with CBS 2’s Cindy Hsu Saturday morning. She said about 50 percent of children with autism wander, and such behavior must be prevented.

“If you think about autism in general and the challenges, in terms of social interaction and communication, and sometimes not understanding danger and what that means, it’s really scary for many families – one of their worst nightmares,” she said.

Goring advised developing prevention plan if you have an autistic child who wanders off. She advised securing your home, considering a tracking device and an ID bracelet, teaching your child to swim, alerting neighbors, and alerting first responders.

Meanwhile, the Oquendo family earlier this week filed a claim to sue the city and the school district for failing to properly supervise the teen. Avonte’s mother has been upset about a surveillance video that shows her son strolling off unabated.

Family attorney David Perecman also said it took the school 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.

On Tuesday, police thought they found Avonte in East Harlem. But when relatives arrived at the hospital, they realized the boy who had been found wasn’t Avonte.

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