NEW YORK (CBSNewYork/AP) — The brother of Avonte Oquendo thanked the people of New York City on Friday for their tireless efforts to find the autistic teen, whose body was found in the water in Queens in January.
Avonte disappeared in October of last year, after he ran out of the door of his school in Long Island City, Queens. While Avonte’s mother and the family attorney led the media campaign to spread awareness about the search, Avonte’s brother, Danny Oquendo, reached out on social media and pleaded for the online community to join his family in the search.
“What happened next was one of the most inspiring events to ever occur in my lifetime,” Danny Oquendo wrote on a blog for the advocacy group Autism Speaks. “As word spread through social networks thanks to shared posts and retweets, we began to see massive groups of volunteers coming from every corner of the Tri-State Area just to help us find our beloved Avonte. Word of his disappearance spread like wildfire and before we knew it there were masses of sympathetic volunteers ready to do anything in their power to aid us in our search.”
Danny Oquendo wrote that the despite the reputation of New Yorkers as being “rude, impatient, aggressive, and unsympathetic,” the New Yorkers who searched for Oquendo “renewed (his) faith in the kindness of humanity.”
“What was even more inspiring was that every volunteer I had the opportunity of meeting acted as if Avonte was their own flesh and blood. It turns out that before it was all said and done Avonte did indeed become the beloved son of the city,” Danny Oquendo wrote. “His story touched everyone’s heart and everyone wanted to ensure that he was found safe and sound.”
For weeks after Avonte disappeared, the NYPD and scores of volunteers scoured the city in search of the severely autistic teen who was also unable to speak.
The search began to gain broader attention, and the Facebook groups gained followers and shares from people around the world, Danny Oquendo wrote.
“Avonte’s disappearance started a movement that will set the bar for what needs to be done for years to come in regards to any child that has gone missing, especially those with disabilities,” he wrote.
Sadly, despite the best efforts of New Yorkers and concerned allies worldwide, the worst did come true. Avonte’s remains were found in the water off College Point, Queens in late January.
The remains were initially unidentifiable when they were found in the river, but 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.
DNA ultimately verified that the remains were Avonte’s, although an autopsy at the New York City Medical Examiner’s office could not determine how he died.
Danny Oquendo took Avonte’s school to task for failing to keep him secured, and said measures need to be taken to make sure no such tragedy happens again.
“The waves created by this catastrophic incident will ripple through time, forcing immediate change to the current security standards of schools across the country, starting with the ones here in New York,” Danny Oquendo wrote. “The city was behind us when we were attempting to find Avonte, and now the city is behind us as we make efforts to reform our school system’s security protocols.”
In an effort to keep autistic children safe, U.S. Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) earlier this year proposed “Avonte’s Law,” legislation that would create a program that provides voluntary tracking devices and expands support services for families with autistic children.
Meanwhile, Avonte’s family has also announced plans to file a wrongful death lawsuit against the City of New York.
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