FROM 10/17/13: We've been following and updating the Avonte Oquendo story on our FB and Twitter feeds. In case you have not heard, Avonte eloped from his school in Queens, New York and has not been seen since the 4th.. His family is moving heaven and earth to find him. Officials have stopped train work - Avonte loves trains and there is the hope he is alive somewhere in the subway or commuter train system.
Please send out good thoughts, prayers if you are so inclined, and alert anyone you know in New York City, New Jersey and Connecticut that Avonte may have boarded a train and been transported away from his family.
Facebook Page Missing Avonte Oquendo
From ABC New York:
LONG ISLAND CITY (WABC) -- The desperate search for Avonte Oquendo continues, as the reward was increased to $70,000 for information leading to his safe return.
On Thursday, the Manhattan Children's Center, a not-for-profit private autism school, had matched the $5,000 put up Wednesday by the law firm Mayerson & Associates. Then on Friday, Autism Speaks and an anonymous donor upped that reward to $70,000.
As the search entered its eighth day Saturday, there are few clues to his possible whereabouts. Friday evening, the police and volunteers spent the evening searching the subway system.
A red tent has now been set up in front of the Center Boulevard School, where Oquendo disappeared from last Friday, to make the search more of a 24-hour operation. Volunteers, including at least one family member, are staffing it around the clock.
"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," brother Daniel Oquendo, Jr., said. "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."
Police were handing out flyers at checkpoints along the street in the search for the boy, who is autistic, non-verbal and was last seen on surveillance video running out of the school unsupervised. They also consulted psychics and have searched those locations, including a tunnel under Tompkins Square Park, but those searches have come up empty.
"Please bring him back, don't keep him if you have him," said grandmother Doris McCoy, who is convinced someone has her grandson and that he is still alive. "Be good to him. Don't abuse him. Don't hurt him."
Police blanketed the area with flyers with the boy's picture and have been spending their days searching scaffolding, rooftops and anywhere else they could think to look.
Oquendo's family is trying to stay strong and hoping he is found soon.
"I know they're going through hours and hours of surveillance, so we're just waiting to see if they get anything from that," brother Daniel Oquendo, Jr., said. "But in the meantime, we're just going to try what we can and search, search everywhere."
The family says the boy has wandered off before, and that on previous occasions, he was found on the subway.
The subway and subway tunnels have been a key location that authorities have been searching, but so far they haven't found anything.
The family now claims that a security guard saw Oquendo leave and did nothing to stop him, and also waited a long time to inform them.
"And she said, 'I saw him and I stopped and asked him, where are you going?'" McCoy said. "'And he turned around and looked at me and just walked out.'"
The Oquendo family has filed a lawsuit against the Department of Education, but they say for now, their main focus is finding him.
"We understand that a security guard apparently knew that the child left, and despite the knowledge that child left, the school didn't notify the parent for a full hour," attorney David Perecman said. "In an hour, this poor boy could have gone who knows where."
Vanessa Fontaine, the boy's mother, says watching surveillance video of her son running gives her a pit in her stomach that consists not only of fear, but also anger that nothing more was done.
"I just cry," she said. "I can't watch it because there he is in the school, and not far from him, the security guard is sitting there, and she lets him walk out the door. It's horrible."
Avonte was last seen wearing a gray striped shirt, black jeans and black sneakers. Authorities say that if you do see him, call authorities first and then follow the boy, because he may run if you approach him too quickly.
Anyone with information is asked to call the NYPD's Crime Stoppers Hotline at 800-577-TIPS.