Remains found along East River in Queens may belong to autistic boy, family's lawyer says
Police have notified the family of Avonte Oquendo, who went missing in October
His mother is set to provide DNA to investigators, lawyer says
A New York City woman whose teenage autistic son disappeared in October may be facing every mother’s nightmare.
On Thursday night, police found legs and an arm next to the East River in Queens as well as size 5½ Air Jordan sneakers that match the shoes of her child, Avonte Oquendo, the teen’s family attorney, David Perecman, told CNN on Friday.
Investigators also found size 16 dark jeans, the same size the teen wore, and underwear, the lawyer said.
Avonte’s mother, Vanessa Fontaine, who has passionately advocated for a search for her son, will provide investigators with her DNA so they can determine whether the remains are the child’s, the attorney said.
“She doesn’t seem to me to have ever lost hope,” Perecman told reporters Friday. “This morning when I spoke to her she just said, ‘You know, it’s not Avonte until it’s Avonte.’ “
Over months of searching for Avonte, his mother always held out hope. After he was missing for three weeks, she addressed reporters at an October 25 news conference.
“My thoughts are that my son is still out there, and I want everyone to continue to help me search for my son,” Fontaine said. “He is not gone.”
The idea of her son wandering around New York was terrifying because he cannot communicate verbally, she said soon after his disappearance.
“He has the mental capacity of a 7- or 8-year-old,” she said.
Avonte was supposed to be with a monitor at all times, Fontaine said.
But surveillance footage that captured her son bounding out of Center Boulevard School on Long Island at 12:38 p.m on October 4 did not show him with a supervisor.
“He doesn’t know that, you know, ‘I can get hurt in the street, someone can grab me and take me,’ ” his mother said. “He doesn’t know that. He doesn’t know fear.”
Authorities said they have worked hard to find the teenager.
They deployed sniffer dogs, combed surveillance footage, searched the sewer system, put up posters for missing persons and filled the streets with fliers. There were alerts on the New York subway and messages in local newspapers. Divers used sonar to explore the city’s waterways.
“Obviously, we have devoted a tremendous amount of resources to the search,” then-Police Commissioner Ray Kelly told CNN affiliate WABC-TV in October. “Unfortunately, we are not hopeful that we’re going to find this young man alive, but we are continuing our search.”
Fontaine said she wanted police to try new methods.
“I don’t know what the commissioner was thinking of last night by saying that,” she said at the time. “But my son, he is alive, he is out there. … [I]t’s just that we are not looking in the right places.”