Managing Editor's Note: Yesterday a news alert came in - the remains found in NY had been positively identified as Avonte Oquendo, missing 14 year old with autism who ran out of his school unsupervised (but not unseen) by staff. We've been praying for his return since October 4, when he vanished into thin air - not an easy feat in congested Queens, NY. Most of us whispered under our breath, "Water, go to the water, he went to the water." Well, today we have his return - not what we wanted - but as a Mother, I think there must be some comfort in being able to bury your child and know you can still watch over him, even in death. To the Oquendo family, our heartfelt condolences. There but for the grace of God and a stroke of luck go most of us and our precious children. RIP, Avonte. Love, Kim Send condolence cards to:
The Perecman Firm
Attn: The Oquendo Family
250 West 57th Street
New York, NY 10107
By Cathy Jameson
Last week, worry gripped my heart as I read that body parts discovered off the shore of the East River appeared to match that of a missing NYC teenager. Missing since October 4, 2013, Avonte Oquendo wandered from his school. Accusations and assumptions about how he was able to leave unsupervised are still being investigated. Answers from that investigation may take time, but after months of wondering where Avonte wandered can finally be answered. Several days after the grim discovery of bones and some clothing items, DNA positively identified the remains as 14-year old Avonte. Words cannot express how sad I am for his family.
As the mother of a child with autism who is prone to wander, the possibility of a fatal outcome because of wandering is never far from my mind. Ronan has gotten away from us before, but has been recovered quickly and with a far less search and rescue endeavor as Avonte’s search required. Because I know the fear that comes with this sort of situation, each time I hear stories of children with autism wandering, I try to pray. For month, I prayed for Avonte and his family as did many of us. My prayers changed Wednesday. Tears and sadness accompanied them. The more overcome I was, I stopped praying. I just couldn’t say any. The reality of autism and of this devastating situation has become far too common and more than I could bear.
Autism affects a great many. Autism can change a life, and sometimes in a way that is anything but positive. Autism and wandering is not uncommon. Autism is difficult, costly and consuming. Autism can bring a family to its knees in a moment’s notice. And what was confirmed again this week, autism can be deadly.
In between tears as I wept for Avonte, I wanted to say, Rest in Peace. But I couldn’t. My throat tightened up. My eyes filled with more tears. More sadness filled me. Anger crept in too. When it comes to autism and wandering there is no peace. How can there be? Constant watching and constant controlling of the environment while managing potentially difficult behaviors isn’t the easiest thing to do. Demands placed on the child with autism and on their caregiver are intense, and they come with little reprieve. Peace is desired, but it’s sometimes the farthest thought and the least tangible result.
When I try to pray again, for Avonte, for his family and for those who worked tirelessly on his behalf, I hope I can find the words my heart is aching to say. I’m hoping those prayers will help. I’m hoping they will wrap Avonte’s family with the strength they’ll need to carry them through what may be the most difficult days they never expected to live.
Cathy Jameson is a Contributing Editor for Age of Autism.