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Heartbroken city grieves: Avonte Oquendo’s remains found in East River

Nayaba Arinde | 1/23/2014, 10:38 a.m.
The news that New York City did not want to hear was delivered on Monday afternoon. The remains that were ...
Avonte Oquendo missing poster Jeffrey Putman/Creative Commons

It is Heartbreaking. “It is a sad, cold world,” Daniel Oquendo, father of Avonte Oquendo, told the Amsterdam News as he strove to come to terms the day after DNA testing revealed that the son for whom he had been searching for four months was found in the East River.

The news that New York City did not want to hear was delivered on Monday afternoon. The remains that were found along the shore of the East River in Queens are those of missing autistic teen Avonte.

Hearts are heavy. For four days, the family and the city held their collective breath for the DNA results, which the medical examiner’s office said could take weeks to come back. The results were

announced within 96 hours.

The family is obviously devastated.

Shattered by the news, and trying to balance grief and comprehension—while simultaneously trying to stay strong for his family—Oquendo, speaking with only the Amsterdam News, noted how the whole tragedy had somehow worked as a strange, unifying force.

In the concentrated search for the mute child, thousands of people scoured the city over four months, sometimes in organized large groups, sometimes as couples or individuals.

“What I saw from the people was hope for our future,” Oquendo stated. “Sometimes in life there are sacrifices made for the betterment of humanity. Unfortunately for me, it was my child. Only God can explain, although I have questioned him, but I am left empty.”

Since last week, Avonte’s mother, Vanessa Fontaine, had refused to believe that the remains found were those of her son, saying, “It’s not Avonte until it’s Avonte.”

On Tuesday, Jan. 21, when the DNA results were revealed, the family’s attorney, David Perecman, told reporters, “[Fontaine] finally just broke down ... just crying and crying.”

On Tumblr, Avonte’s brother Danny Oquendo wrote, “Rest in peace, little brother. This world never deserved you. I will long for the day I can join you in paradise.”

He too thanked the people who had come out to help in the search for his brother. “The tenacity the world, especially NYC, has shown in regards to finding Avonte and spreading awareness has been unmatched in comparison to any other missing child investigation. For that, we are forever grateful to you.”

Avonte’s case gripped the city and had thousands of people—with some flying in as far as Texas and Florida—come to participate in the search for the nonverbal child. Avonte’s father told the AmNews in previous interviews that his son could not speak or write. The elder Daniel Oquendo, feeling that “someone has my son,” pleaded, “They should let him go. He can’t tell on you; he can’t speak.”

The MTA searched every tunnel in the system, and police and volunteers searched the streets, backyards and industrial and construction sites in Long Island City, Queens, near Avonte’s school. Some people even searched all over Central Park in the hopes of finding the youngster.

As late as last week—even when the medical examiner’s office was testing the DNA from the recovered body parts—subway riders heard the familiar announcement asking them to look out for the mute child, still giving a description of what he was wearing and what number to call if he was spotted. The MTA searched their 468 subway stations; there were constant announcements and posters everywhere in the system.