A three-month search for a student who disappeared from a Queens school ended in tragedy today after remains discovered late last week were identified as Avonte Oquendo.
Oquendo vanished after walking out of the Riverview School, a school for students with severe disabilities in Long Island City, in October. Police and volunteers waged an intensive search effort for the 14-year-old, who had autism and did not speak. But there were no signs of Oquendo until Friday, when remains were discovered several miles away from the school. DNA analysis showed that the body was his, city officials said today.
Chancellor Carmen Fariña said in a statement that she was “among the many who are heartbroken” to hear about the search’s sad end.
“Today our school community is in mourning. Losing a child is a parent’s worst nightmare, and I cannot imagine the grief that Avonte’s family must be going through. I extend my deepest condolences to them,” she said. She added, “As chancellor, I am determined that we learn every lesson we can from this terrible tragedy and do everything in our power to prevent incidents like this from ever occurring again.”
Safety measures that could have prevented Oquendo from leaving his school or sped the initial effort to find him were reportedly not in place. Fariña’s predecessor, Dennis Walcott, pledged to ramp up safety protocols at schools for students with disabilities. He also asked for an investigation into Oquendo’s disappearance, which is ongoing now.
The Oquendo family’s attorney said the family intends to file a wrongful death suit against the city.