“I believe someone has my son Avonte,” said Daniel Oquendo, father of the 14-year-old autistic boy who has been missing for four weeks. “Avonte does not speak. He can’t snitch, he can’t tell on you … he can’t point you out. So please let him come home. He wants to come home. He misses home.”
Dozens of people from all over the tristate area joined the family, friends and supporters of Avonte Oquendo at a press conference and prayer gathering on Sunday at the Long Island City park across from the school where he was last seen.
The teen, whose missing flier is posted all over the city and beyond, vanished Oct. 4 after leaving his school in Long Island City, resulting in a massive manhunt. Unfortunately, all the manpower, effort and energy have not turned up any clues as to Avonte Oquendo’s whereabouts.
Most of the people at the vigil had no connection to the Oquendo family. Some said that they were just moved by this story and felt compelled to help. Some folks, though, had autistic children or worked with people with autism. They had a special understanding. Everyone was empathetic and surrounded the family with expressions of compassion, insulating them with warmth and love on a seasonable, cool afternoon.
Barbara Bevin, a concerned parent, came from Harlem in support of the Oquendo family. “Put yourself in this situation. We are a part of something. We are family members. If this young man was a member of your family, you would go just as hard,” she told the AmNews. “I would never stop looking for my child.”
NYPD Chief Philip Banks has told the AmNews that every resource has been utilized in an effort to find the missing child. At the prayer gathering, the family hoped for divine intervention. The Rev. Phil Craig, the representative for the Queens Chapter of the National Action Network, opened the press conference with prayer and words of encouragement.
“I believe there is power in prayer. I believe in miracles. Statistics may say that after a certain period of time it may not look good, but I know God is able,” he said. “The Bible says you speak those things that are not as if there were there. So I know that Avonte will return home.”
Police are following every tip and continue to comb every area of the city. “Avonte is alive,” said Councilwoman Letitia James, Democratic Party nominee for public advocate. “It is going to take the entire city to find this young man. We have to come out of our comfort zone. Hit the streets in all five boroughs. This child belongs to us now.”
“We are going to continue searching for my son Avonte, but in case someone has him, please, please, please take him to a public area where there are people around. Make sure someone knows he is there and let them call the police,” Daniel Oquendo told the AmNews, in the hope that the person he believes has his son will hear his plea.
The gathering came a day after Police Commissioner Ray Kelly apologized to the Oquendo family after saying he was “not hopeful” that Avonte Oquendo would be found alive. Kelly traveled to Long Island City on Saturday to speak with Avonte’s family.
“Ray Kelly’s comment was very harsh,” Daniel Oquendo told the AmNews. “It hurt. It was very disheartening. But when he came by the tent to apologize the next day, I respected his gesture, and it seemed sincere.”
“He did apologize for it, and he said the search will continue,” Vanessa Fontaine, Avonte Oquendo’s mother, told WPIX regarding Kelly’s apology. “I’m very happy that he came out to say what he said. I wasn’t there, so I couldn’t say exactly what he said, but I’m happy that the search is continuing and they’re not scaling back.
“The Police Department has been great. I can’t say anymore. They’ve been out there searching, and I just want them to continue to search. Don’t give up, because I’m never going to give up to look for my son, and I don’t want anybody else to give up looking for him. He’s still alive. He’s out there.”
Police say they are following every tip and continue to comb every area. The NYPD says Avonte Oquendo is fascinated with trains and had previously turned up at subway stations after wandering off from home, so that is where investigators are focusing their energy. Announcements about Avonte Oquendo can be heard on subway platforms and trains all over the city.
“I don’t know how to describe my feelings right now. I’m just empty inside. I believe he is out here somewhere. Someone has him,” said Doris McCoy, Avonte Oquendo’s grandmother. “If you see him, please call someone. Take him to the store. He loves Burger King. Please don’t harm him.”
The family remains undaunted as they continue to search, confident that Avonte Oquendo will return home safe. “Thank you for coming out to help one family, one child. The family thanks each of you who are here and for those who have volunteered to help,” said family attorney David Perecman.
“I want to thank the NYPD for using all their resources to help find Avonte. They have done an incredible job keeping us abreast of their investigation. They are looking out for the welfare of the family,” Daniel Oquendo added. “l have been overwhelmed with joy with the response of the community—the volunteers, the merchants and the neighbors. They have all come down in large numbers and helped our cause immensely. And to the person who has him or knows where he is, please bring him to where some people will see him. If you are afraid of doing so, then please take him to your neighbor. He wants to come home—please bring him home.”
The family have set up a base by Avonte Oquendo’s school at Center Boulevard at 51st Avenue and Seventh Street in Long Island City. For more information, contact 347-277-7948.
Anyone with information on the case should contact the Crime Stoppers hotline at 1-800-577-TIPS, or text CRIMES and then enter TIP577, or visit www.nypdcrimestoppers.com.