The Special Commissioner of Investigation for the New York City public schools has opened an investigation into how a 14-year-old boy with autism managed to leave his school last Friday.
Avonte Oquendo attends the Riverview school for students with disabilities in Long Island City. A security camera showed the boy leaving shortly after 12:30 in the afternoon on Friday while classes were still in session.
The boy is unable to speak and his family has said he was supposed to have a school aide watching him. Police have been searching for him and so have residents who live near the school.
Gianna Cerbone-Teoli organized Team Avonte to help find the boy. She owns the Manducatis Rustica restaurant on Vernon Boulevard, and has two sons - one of whom attends P.S. 78, which is right near the Riverview school. She said she started sending out emails to other parents at her school about the missing boy, and they gathered to pass out fliers.
"No one even knew about it," she said, of some of the local businesses. "Even the stores on Center Boulevard. One of the moms went into one of the local coffee shops on Center Boulevard, they had no idea - they didn't even have it in the window."
Teoli said the group of about 75 parents continued passing out fliers this week, using a local UPS store to make copies. They also worked with police to make sure the entire surrounding neighborhood was covered, and they reached out to local elected officials.
Teoli said she was surprised to have heard nothing so far from the Department of Education. "We're besides ourselves," she said.
The agency will not comment except to say it's working with police, who are conducting an active investigation. The NYPD mistakenly thought it found him on Tuesday in East Harlem.
Lori Podvesker, who has a son with autism who is non-verbal like Oquendo, suggested the school system should send fliers home in children's backpacks with information about the boy to help the search. "We don't really know what they are doing because they're so quiet," she said. "But moving forward the question is what are they going to do to keep this from happening again?"
Avonte Oquendo is 5 foot 3 inches tall and weighs 125 pounds. Police said he was last seen wearing a gray striped shirt, black jeans and black sneakers. Anyone with information was asked to contact the NYPD's Crime Stoppers Hotline at 800-577-TIPS.