Avonte Oquendo’s Story
Few people who do not have an autistic child, friend, or relative can truly understand the challenges that these individuals and their families face. Avonte Oquendo’s family entrusted their son into the city’s care when he was sent to Riverview School in Long Island City, Queens. That trust was betrayed when Avonte wandered away from school in October 2013. He was never seen alive again.
Avonte Oquendo went missing from his New York school on October 4, 2013. He was 14 years old, a boy with autism who couldn’t speak. After more than three months of exhaustive searching, his remains were found in the East River. His body was verified by medical examiners on January 21, 2014, leaving his family and a city of dedicated searchers and followers devastated at his loss.
The Search for Avonte in New York
The search for Avonte, launched by his family, was unprecedented in the city of New York. Flyers and posters were fixed to lampposts, car windshields, and the walls of the subway stations where it was feared Avonte had fled. The search took place across the city, employing hundreds of people from police officers to marine units to subway workers to volunteers.
No stone was left unturned in searching for any clue as to the whereabouts of a 14 year-old boy who had slipped past the school security desk. Now, we will fight to bring to justice to anyone responsible for his tragic loss in our effort to live up to the duty we owe to all of the Avontes in our city and our society.
Praying for Hope & Healing in the Aftermath
Without really knowing Avonte, his innocence, smiling face, and heartbreaking story sparked the best in those of us who followed, participated, searched, and cared. We hope his family and friends can find some peace in this knowledge. We may never know exactly what happened after Avonte left school that day. We do know that no one gave up in the committed, consolidated effort to bring Avonte home.
An autistic boy, Avonte was known as a special-needs teen. He was special in another way, however—one that brings out the best in many. That specialness came from the fierce love and care he elicited in others, from his family to complete strangers. For that, we can pay tribute to Avonte forever.
Protecting Members of Our Community with Autism
Wandering is a trait commonly associated with autism—and one that can cause constant anxiety to family members and others who may care for autistic individuals. Because Avonte did not have the supervision he needed, he lost his life at a young age.
During the widespread search for Avonte, his story touched the lives of countless New Yorkers and others nationwide. Perhaps his story will bring to light the need for further research and understanding of those whose lives are affected by autism spectrum disorders (ASD). Perhaps this story will encourage social institutions and caretakers to exercise more responsibility in caring for vulnerable individuals who, in spite of their difficulties, are greatly loved. We earnestly hope this is the case, as we extend our heartfelt condolences and prayers to Avonte’s family during this sorrowful time.
Avonte’s Law was enacted in New York City in 2014 and introduced at the federal level in 2014 by United States Senator Charles Schumer.
In 2017, following successful implementation of policies at NYC schools and an illuminating study on wandering behavior published in The Journal of Pediatrics, Avonte’s Law was re-introduced as “Kevin and Avonte’s Law.” On March 23, 2018, the measure (H.R. 4221) was signed into federal law by President Donald Trump.
The Perecman Firm, P.L.L.C. is among those who have long supported this important legislation and its widespread adoption. We hope Avonte’s Law will help preserve Avonte’s legacy and ensure his loss was not in vain by protecting other children who suffer from disabilities.
Remembering Avonte Oquendo
Avonte was much loved and will be forever missed by his family and friends. His mother’s plea, which was repeatedly run in the subway and through police vehicles, said: “Avonte, this is your mother. You are safe. Walk towards the lights.” Avonte, we now know that you have returned to the light, although that light is one that none of us here have seen.
Avonte’s story is one that anyone who took part in will never forget. The unprecedented search that followed his departure from school that day is a tribute to the depth of love that he inspired in his mother, father, and brother, and the city of New York. Posters of his smiling face stared back at us everywhere in the streets and subway stations.
We read about the massive efforts to find him on Facebook and in media outlets such as New York’s PIX 11, the New York Daily News, The New Yorker, and more. We posted comments on media and social networking sites offering our prayers, hope, and help to bring him safely home. That was not to be. While his family held on to that hope until the last moment, the search has ended. Let us hope now that closure and a measure of healing can begin.