BY TRISHA SAKHUJA
As the search continues to find the missing autistic teenager, it has been a grueling two and a half weeks for the parents of Avonte Oquendo.
He was last seen on a surveillance camera walking out of the Center Boulevard School in Long Island City on Oct. 4. According to Detective Marc Nell, Avonte is five-foot-three-inches and weighs 125 pounds. Nell said the reward for Avonte’s safe return has gone up from $70,000 to $85,000.
Hundreds of police officers and volunteers have joined the search to find the 14-year-old boy who is unable to verbally communicate and requires adult supervision. He was last seen wearing a white Polo shirt with gray horizontal stripes, dark blue pants and solid-black Jordan basketball sneakers.
With hundreds of flyers posted on train stations and bus stops across the City, the New York Police Department has been scouring the subways, Central Park and rooftops.They have been conducting air and water surveys with helicopters and scuba divers, and even reaching out to psychics for help.
Avonte’s brother Daniel Oquendo, 26, recently left the City to return to his job in Orlando, but he said as the family continues to pray and support each other, they are thankful for the outpouring of support they have received from the City and the volunteers.
“There is not much we can do right now, except wait and hope there is some kind of lead that helps find my brother,” Daniel said.
David Perecman, the Oquendo family’s attorney, said they have filed a “notice of claim” with the City, in the first step in filing a lawsuit.
“His parents are more upset everyday,” Perecman said.
He said “this is a dangerous case” against the school because the school’s security guard and teachers should have better supervised Avonte during his transition from class to class.
When Avonte approached the front door of his school, the security guard told him to go back upstairs, but Avonte walked down the hall and exited the building from a side door, Perecman said. Perecman added that the school should not have waited 45 minutes before calling the police to report the missing teenager.
According to reports, on Monday NYPD Commissioner Ray Kelly said if no headway is made in the search for Avonte within the next few days, the NYPD may start to scale back in their efforts.
So far, the police have received more than 200 tips and searched 60 registered sex offenders in Long Island City.
Anybody with any information is asked to call NYPD Crime Stoppers at 800-577-TIPS. You can also visit the Crime Stoppers website or text tips to 274637 (CRIMES) and enter TIP577.
Reach Trisha Sakhuja at (718) 357-7400, Ext. 128, firstname.lastname@example.org, or @Tsakhuja13.