NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) — As of Monday, it had been 17 days since Avonte Oquendo was last seen, and concern grows every passing day.
As CBS 2’s Don Champion reported, the search for the autistic 14-year-old boy intensified even more on Monday.
Avonte was last seen on surveillance video walking out of the Center Boulevard School in Long Island City, Queens 17 days ago.
Avonte is 5-foot-3 and weighs 125 pounds. He was last seen wearing a gray striped shirt, black jeans and black shoes.
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.
Hundreds of volunteers have joined in the search for Avonte, hoping his mom’s personal message will bring him out of hiding.
On Monday, Avonte’s mom, Vanessa Fontaine, and his brother, Jason Oquendo, visited TV 10/55’s “The Couch” with family attorney, David Perecman.
Avonte’s family claims to be a tight-knit group. As Jason said, they are leaning on each other in this difficult time.
“It’s hard. I mean, every day we’re just supporting each other, trying to keep our spirits up, hoping to hear some good word. Try to smile, when we can,” he said. “It’s very tragic trying to find him, but we’re pulling together, just pulling along.”
Perecman said the family appreciates the large turnout of New Yorkers who have come out to lend a hand in the search for Avonte, but said they need more help.
“What’s next is to try to get more New Yorkers involved,” he said. “Volunteers are needed. As much as the family appreciates [those who have already come out], we need more. We need thousands of people to comb the city. It’s a big city. If enough people get involved, hopefully we get Avonte back home.”
Avonte’s mom had a message for her son: “Mommy loves you, the family is here for you, and we’re going to find you.”
She also had words for anyone who may be with Avonte.
“If someone has my son, please be kind to him and let him go,” she said. “Put him in a public place full of people and let him go. Walk away.”
Meawnwhile, police helicopters scanned the riverbank near Avonte’s Long Island City school Monday. Hundreds of officers have been conducting air and ground searches in multiple locations – in an effort that Police Commissioner Ray Kelly said will soon be reevaluated.
“We’ll have to make adjustments as far as the deployment of the amount of resources we have probably during the week if we’re unsuccessful,” Kelly said.
But volunteers will not give up.
“He’s alive and we’re going to find him,” said volunteer Calvin Hunt.
So far, more than 6,700 people have helped with the search effort.
Volunteers are using signs and shirts to get the teen’s picture out while the NYPD is deploying school safety and other officers out on the streets in droves.
“Just the volunteers alone – everybody has been giving their 100 percent,” Hunt said.
The reward for Avonte’s safe return is up to $85,000. Cops have received more than 200 tips and have checked out 60 registered sex offenders in the Long Island City area.
The Oquendo family also has filed a notice of claim with the city, in the first step in filing a lawsuit.
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