The last time anyone saw 14-year-old Avonte Oquendo was October 4, when he left his Queens school. Now, nearly four weeks later, with his family still praying for his safe return (and the NYPD doubting that he's alive), a photograph showing a boy who looks like Avonte has surfaced. UPDATE: The boy in the photograph is not Avonte; see update below.
The picture was taken on Tuesday afternoon, either on an E or F train, by a 13-year-old boy who asked, "Hey, are you Avonte?" But the boy didn't respond, which might be consistent with Avonte, who is autistic and doesn't communicate verbally. The Daily News reports, "He later posted the photo of a boy staring straight ahead and wearing a beige jacket and green khaki pants on his Facebook page, sources said. An administrator from the good Samaritan’s school saw the image and alerted police, who are investigating."
The News adds, "Around 4:30 p.m. Wednesday, residents near the Woodhaven-Ozone Park border in Queens said NYPD cops from the 102 Precinct swarmed the area, and helicopters hovered above a Burger King on Atlantic Ave. 'We saw cops coming up by twos, going into every house on 92nd St. looking for security cameras,' said one resident, who declined to give her name."
Avonte has run away three other times, and each time he's been found in the subway system—prompting the MTA to assist with the search by enlisting workers to search the tracks and conductors asking riders if they've seen the boy. Avonte's mother Vanessa Fontaine said of the picture, "I don’t celebrate yet, but I’m saying keep hope alive. There’s hope there that it may be him," while Avonte's older brother Anthony Fontaine said, "We’ve seen a lot of photos turn out to be dead-ends and not him, but this one is like, probably the closest one... It’s like maybe a 65 percent chance, you know, a possibility. It fits the description a little bit. We’re hoping it’s him."
The reward for information leading to Avonte's safe return is now at $85,000. At the time he went missing, he was wearing a grey striped shirt, black jeans and black sneakers. He's 5'3" and about 125 pounds—and he cannot verbally communicate. Anyone with information in regards to this missing is asked to call the NYPD's Crime Stoppers Hotline at 800-577-TIPS. The public can also submit their tips by logging onto the Crime Stoppers Website at WWW.NYPDCRIMESTOPPERS.COM or texting their tips to 274637(CRIMES) then enter TIP577.
UPDATE: The News spoke to the NYPD, who said, "It was not Avonte. This person whose photo it was was in the precinct with his parents. He was taken to a precinct, he was with his mother and it’s confirmed he was not Avonte."