14-year-old Avonte Oquendo has been missing for three weeks now, and Police Commissioner Ray Kelly says the NYPD has started to suspect the worst. “Unfortunately, we are not hopeful that we’re going to find this young man alive," he told ABC 7 yesterday, adding, "But we are continuing our search."
Avonte, who is autistic and unable to communicate verbally, walked out of his special needs school in Long Island City on October 4th; since then, the city has spearheaded a frantic search for the teen, and over $90,000 has been offered in reward for his safe return. But Kelly says that at this point, he is not optimistic that Avonte's story will have a happy ending. "Obviously, we have devoted a tremendous amount of resources to the search," he said. "We're continuing to put information out. We're talking to jurisdictions, certainly in the Northeast quadrant of the United States. So we're, unfortunately, we are not hopeful that we're going to find this young man alive, but we are continuing our search."
Earlier this week, the NYPD said they may reduce the number of cops searching for Avonte, noting that their extensive efforts had thus far proved fruitless; meanwhile, the teen's family says they're not giving up hope. "Everybody's entitled to their own opinion. You know what they say about opinions. I have no problem with that. That's cool. It's not going to slow us down," Avonte's father, Daniel Oquendo, said. "We're going to continue our search, so we have no problem with whatever anybody has to say or, you know, we're going to do our thing."
Meanwhile, Capital New York reports that Avonte's school, PS. 277, did not have the proper safety features in place on the day he disappeared. Administrators and staff members lacked passwords to log into the security camera feeds, according to an internal memo obtained by Capital, there was no safety monitor at the front desk and there were no alarmed panic bars in place on exit doors; Avonte reportedly left the school using a side exit door.
"The Special Commissioner for Investigations is investigating what happened, and we intend to take a serious look at his findings," Schools Chancellor Dennis Walcott said in a statement yesterday. "I have meanwhile ordered my staff to examine the procedures that we have in place to prevent something like this from ever happening again."