It was October 4, 2013 when Avonte Oquendo, a fourteen-year old autistic boy from Queens, New York, went missing. He was last seen leaving his school in Long Island City, New York, which was caught on a surveillance camera. A school safety officer also reportedly stopped him, but police state that the safety official is not to blame. The boy is described as 5-foot-3-inches, weighing about 125 pounds, and was last seen wearing a grey stripped shirt and black jeans.
Oquendo is fascinated with trains, and police believe that he may have boarded one to New Jersey or further. Daniel Oquendo, Avonte's brother, told the station: "Maybe if he's not out in the street, then somebody does have him and I just hope that whoever does have my brother, they just give him up please so we can have him back." Oquendo's family members have described him as non-verbal, which makes the task of finding him even more difficult.
According to the U.S. Department of Justice's most recent study, there were approximately 800,000 children younger than eighteen-years old who were reported missing in a one-year period of time, which equates to about 2,185 children who are reported missing each day. As many as six children with autism go missing each week, and over half of all autistic children will run away at least once before the age of seventeen. Interactive Autism Network reported that 49 percent bolt or "elope" after the age of four-years old.
They may not respond when their names are called, run away to the sound of police sirens, and hide in small, closed spaces. Children with autism also interact with others very differently, and are affected by situations in their own distinct way. According to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC), autistic children often have a diminished sense of fear. They cannot register the elevated risks, and may walk straight into traffic, wander into the woods, or move toward water. In fact, 91 percent of autistic children who are found dead is due to drowning. In 2013, fourteen autistic children wandered away and have been found dead.
Stories of missing autistic children do not always end in tragedy. There have been many cases where the child was found. In October, 2011, Robert Wood Jr., an eight-year old from Virginia, disappeared for about a week and was later found in a creek bed. In April, 2013, Angelo Messineo, a sixteen-year old from Georgia, was found alive on a horse farm, four days after he left school.
Many volunteers have joined in the search of Avonte Oquendo, and prayers are made each day for his safe return. Autism Speaks, a non-profit organization that attempts to increase autism awareness, has joined in the family's efforts with a $70,000 reward being offered for any information on Oquendo's whereabouts. According to the organization, autistic children that wander away is "common, dangerous, and puts stress on families."
"We can't even sleep. It's hard to sleep knowing your child is out there and he could be cold and hungry and he can't even communicate," stated Oquendo's father.
Those with information are asked to contact the NYPD at 1-800-577-TIPS.
Image via Autism Speaks