HARLEM, NY — Rev. Al Sharpton joined the search for a missing autistic boy Saturday. He pledged his National Action Network would help in search efforts to find 14-year-old Avonte Oquendo, and demanded that New York City officials be held accountable for alleged negligence that led the boy’s disappearance.
“I’m concerned with how a mother and father could have a child with special needs in a school and all of a sudden he is missing and nobody can explain anything to them. There’s something wrong with that,” said Sharpton at a rally in Harlem.
It’s been now more than two weeks since Avonte walked out of the Riverview School in Long Island City. School records detailed that Avonte – who is severely autistic and cannot speak – had a history of becoming excited between classes, said to David Perecman, an attorney for the Oquendo family. He was supposed to be supervised by a teacher and a paraprofessional monitor but somehow was able to exit the school, in the middle of the day, past a school safety officer.
In addition, Sharpton and Perecman charge that administrators at the Riverview School failed to alert authorities to Avonte’s disappearance until nearly an hour after they discovered it.
“Is there anyone in their right mind that considers that proper care,” asked Perecman. He continued to say that neither the NYPD nor the department of education has responded to a Freedom of Information request for reports that detail the circumstances of Avonte’s disappearance.
“I’m being told it’s under investigation,” said Perecman. “As the reverenced said, it’s sad enough this poor family doesn’t know where their boy Avonte is. At least give them one touch of solace and let them know why they don’t know where he is.”
Perecman said that he was hopeful that Sharpton’s involvement would encourage action around Avonte’s case and raise awareness for efforts to find him. He finished by asking those gathered at the rally to do whatever they could to aid in the search.
The Oquendo family has been searching for Avonte almost nonstop since his disappearance. They took a break from the search headquarters, a tent in Queens, to appeal to the crowd gathered at NAN’s House of Justice. Inside the building, each seat was covered in a flyer with Avonte’s face and description.
“Everybody, take the time out to look – five minutes. Come out your house, back around the block. Be aware of your surroundings,” said Avonte’s father, Daniel Oquendo. “When you’re going to work, walking to the train, just keep your eyes open.”
The family planned a major search effort for Saturday evening and asked for the help of volunteers to scour the city section by section. To help, along with donating to the reward for Avonte’s safe return, Sharpton promised that members of NAN’s six chapters across New York would join the search.
Avonte Oquendo was last seen leaving his school in the Long Island City section of Queens. He was wearing a gray striped shirt, black jeans and black sneakers. He is 5 foot 3 inches tall, weighs 125 pounds. Police are asking anyone with information to call the NYPD’s Crime Stoppers Hotline at 800-577-TIPS. You can also submit tips by logging onto the Crime Stoppers website at www.NYPDCrimeStoppers.com. There is a $70,000 reward for Avonte’s safe return.
Follow Donovan X. Ramsey at @iDXR.