Police are investigating whether human remains found in the East River Thursday are those of Avonte Quendo.
The 14-year-old autistic teen has been missing since Oct. 4, when cameras at his school showed him leaving the building in Long Island City, Queens and heading towards a nearby park on the East River.
A teenage girl was walking along the East River Thursday, 11 miles from Center Boulevard School where Avonte went missing, and took a photo of a hand. Her mother later took the photo to police. During the following investigation, the Amsterdam News was told that police found an arm and hand, a leg and foot, jeans, a sneaker and underwear. Other news outlets are also reporting an additional leg and torso have been found.
On Friday morning police and their dogs began searching through the waters and shoreline surrounding the location of these remains.
In October, family members told the Amsterdam News that Avonte is 5-foot-3, weighs 125 pounds and was last seen wearing a gray striped shirt, black jeans and black sneakers. The family’s attorney has said the clothing found Thursday matches this description. Vanessa Oquendo, Avonte’s mother, is expected to visit the morgue today to attempt to identify the remains and aid in DNA testing.
“At this point I hope that it’s not him, but of course from the information that has been released so far it seems like it’s him,” said Donnell Nichols, a lead volunteer in the search for Avonte, as he was on his way to the medical examiner. “It’s devastating. The time I spent working on it, we just really wanted to find him alive.”
But in light of yesterday’s findings, those close to Avonte’s family are still wary that this may be another false alarm. In the months-long search for Avonte there have been many reported sightings of the boy, including one tip written on a missing poster at the Amsterdam News which claimed a sighting in Harlem. These are all suspected to be false alarms.
“My gut tells me that Avonte’s OK, and someone is taking care of him. I am praying that they just give him up,” Daniel Oquendo, Avonte Oquendo’s father, told the AmNews in the weeks following his son’s disappearance in October.
An NYPD official with direct knowledge of the case said the body parts are not confirmed to be Avonte’s but the boy’s parents have been notified for “sensitivity reasons” surrounding the media publicity around the case.
The case has been at the center of much media attention as over 100 police detectives were assigned to the case, and help to find the missing boy has poured in from across the city and the nation.
When Commissioner Ray Kelly announced on Oct.18, just two weeks after the boy’s disappearance, that the NYPD would reduce on the number of resources being used to find Avonte, the boy’s family says the community scaled up their efforts as the police scaled down.
Autism groups helped to increase the reward for the teen’s safe return to up to $70,000. Con Ed and Time Warner offered their help in the form of resources and electricity to search tents. Celebrities like Alexander Rodriguez stepped in to raise awareness about the missing teen and hundreds of volunteers helped to put up missing posters and conduct searches of the city’s parks.