NEW YORK(CBSNewYork) — About 200 mourners gathered at a Manhattan church Saturday to say a final farewell to 14-year-old Avonte Oquendo.
The autistic teenager went missing more than three months ago after walking away from his school in Long Island City. His remains were found last week.
The service at the Church of Saint Joseph was led by the former Roman Catholic archbishop of New York, Cardinal Edward Egan.
Egan called Avonte a strong, courageous young man who handled autism with immense grace and nobility, CBS 2’s Steve Langford reported.
It was not the closure that Avonte’s family was hoping for, but after nearly four months of not knowing, his family said a final goodbye.
Family friend Leslie Birch called Avonte an angel who god used to bring people together.
“Just love one another. It shouldn’t take a lost soul for us to come together in unity. I know he’s resting in peace,” she said.
One by one family, friends and those who were touched by Avonte’s story placed white roses on his casket following the funeral Mass, WCBS 880’s Sophia Hall reported.
“We in pain. We just need everybody’s help. We in pain right now. Stay with us and help us,” Avonte’s cousin Kirk Patrick tearfully said.
Even strangers attended the services. “I think that we all feel like we’re part of this since we all saw his image for so long and we were all praying he would be found,” mourner Carolyn McCrory said.
In response to the family’s ordeal, funeral director Peter Deluca said he offered to cover the cost of the services. “I offered to do Avonte’s funeral for free so I could help alleviate any other further burden,” Deluca said.
For Avonte’s mother, Vanessa Fontaine, it was an exhaustive 16-week search, CBS 2’s Janelle Burrell reported.
From the day that her son was last seen walking out of his Long Island City School on Oct. 4, she was adamant that Avonte was alive.
For weeks the NYPD and scores of volunteers scoured the city in search of the severely autistic teen who was also unable to speak.
When authorities scaled back their search, Fontaine continued the effort. She was determined to find out what happened to her son.
“I can’t give up that hope. What mom would?” she said back in December.
After unknown remains were spotted in the river, teams of police divers and investigators combed the area where more body parts were eventually discovered, along with clothing that matched what the teen was last seen wearing.
On Tuesday, Avonte’s family received the news that they were dreading. DNA tests confirmed that the remains found in the East River in College Point, Queens were his.
“The DNA has verified that indeed the remains that were found are those of Avonte,” the family’s attorney said.
“Vanessa was crying when I spoke to her. His grandma Doris was already rattled,” he added.
The boy’s family has demanded an explanation from the city as to how Avonte was able to walk out of school unnoticed. They have said they plan to file a wrongful death lawsuit against the city.
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