It's been nearly two weeks since a 14-year-old autistic boy was last seen by his family. Avonte Oquendo has been missing since October 4th, when he left his Long Island City, Queens school in the middle of the day. One of his relatives pleaded, "If somebody does have him, release him, because he can't even tell on you. Write a note, put it in his pocket, write a note on his forehead, send him off."
Avonte is unable to communicate verbally, heightening his family's worries. The search has intensified underground, because on three previous occasions when Avonte has run away, he's been found in the subway system, sometimes on the tracks. Last week, maintenance work was halted and the MTA asked all workers to search tracks for the boy. Transport Workers Union Local 100 President John Samuelsen told the Daily News, "I’ve never seen anything like it before. It’s actually brilliant. No one knows the subway system like track workers."
The MTA has also been asking subway riders to be on the lookout for Avonte, with subway conductors making announcements on trains. This is the first time the MTA has done this for a missing person. Avonte, who was last seen wearing a grey striped shirt, black jeans and black sneakers, is 5'3" and about 125 pounds.
The NYPD has asked authorities in Long Island and New Jersey for help with the search. WABC also reports that NYPD divers went into the Newtown Creek, near Avonte's school, yesterday to look for the boy.
The reward for Avonte's safe return is now $70,000, with contributions from law firms; Avonte's mother's employer Health First; Suzanne and Bob Wright, Autism Speaks co-founders; Mayerson & Associates, a Manhattan law firm; Manhattan Children's Center, a not-for-profit private autism school; and an anonymous donor. Thomas Gelb of the Manhattan Children's Center criticized the school for seemingly letting Avonte out the door, "Knowing the vulnerability of this population, and that autism is a pervasive developmental disorder, it is to be anticipated that some students may attempt to leave the classroom. Schools need to have security systems in place, including redundant systems, to ensure that a student does not actually make it out the front door."
Avonte's brother said, "We're just out here trying to give out as much information as we can to anyone that wants to help or volunteer or search for Avonte. We're trying to have a family member or relative out here 24 hours a day, just in case he comes back here or anybody else wanders up here and wants to help."
Yesterday, a man begged Banksy fans in Woodside to use their scavenger hunt skills to find Avonte: