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Friday, December 27, 2013

Where is Avonte Oquendo?

     Avonte Oquendo, an autistic 14-year-old who didn't speak, attended school in Long Island City, Queens, New York. The black, five-foot-three, 120 pound student was enrolled in the school's special needs program. He lived with his mother, Vanessa Fontaine, a social services case manager, and his four older brothers aged 19 to 29. Avonte's school sits on a busy street across from a playground, a dog run, and a jogging path that overlooks the East River.

     At 12:40 PM on October 4, 2013, a school surveillance camera caught Avonte coming out of the building with other school kids. He hasn't been seen since. Reacting to the missing persons report filed by his mother, dozens of New York City police officers from the 102 Precinct, aided by two helicopters, conducted a thorough search of the neighborhood.

     Following the initial surge of police activity on the case, Avonte's mother Vanessa, working out of a donated recreational vehicle parked in front of the school, oversaw the deployment of volunteer searchers and the distribution of missing person fliers.

     Vanessa Fontaine also organized candlelight vigils and rallies, raised $95,000 in reward money from anonymous donors, and appeared on several nationally broadcast television programs. While the police received hundreds of tips, nothing panned out.

     Two months after her son's disappearance, Vanessa moved her operation out of the RV and set up shop in a rented office. Thirty days after that, with still no leads on Avonte's whereabouts, activity on the case waned. There were fewer tips coming in, and only a handful of volunteers showed up each day at Vanessa's missing persons headquarters.

     The missing boy's mother recently filed a lawsuit against New York City's Board of Education. The plaintiff accuses the staff at Avonte's school of failing to protect him.

     On Thursday night, January 16, 2014, body parts and items of clothing found near the Queens shoreline. The remains were believed to be the missing boy's. The search was over and a new phase of the case, determining Oquendo's cause and manner of death, was underway.  

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