UPDATE: Through a generous donor the reward for the safe return of Avonte Oquendo has been increased to a total of $50,000.
Avonte Oquendo, a fourteen-year-old boy with autism from Queens, N.Y., has been missing since Friday afternoon. Avonte, who is nonverbal and according to his family has the mental capacity of a seven-year-old, was last seen on video surveillance running out the door of his school in Long Island City at approximately 12:45 p.m. Today, police released an updated photo of Avonte.
Earlier this week, Manhattan law firm Mayerson & Associates posted a $5,000 reward for Oquendo's safe return. A not-for-profit private autism school, the Manhattan Children’s Center, then matched that offer with an additional $5,000, for a total of $10,000. The additional $5,000 came from the Gelb Family Foundation.
Thomas Gelb, one of the founders of the Manhattan Children’s Center, said: “All of us at MCC are praying for Avonte’s safe return and hope that these additional funds might enhance the public awareness about the search for Avonte.”
Mr. Gelb expressed concern over the kind of security measures that would allow a non-verbal child with autism to walk out of a public school in the middle of the day. “Knowing the vulnerability of this population, and that autism is a pervasive developmental disorder, it is to be anticipated that some students may attempt to leave the classroom. Schools need to have security systems in place, including redundant systems, to ensure that a student does not actually make it out the front door.”
Anyone with information was asked to contact the New York Police Department’s Crime Stoppers hot line at (800) 577-TIPS.
Wandering by children with autism is common, dangerous and puts tremendous stress on families. Autism Speaks wants to remind families of the resources available and the advice to follow to keep your children safe. To check out our wandering resources, click here.