NBC 4 New York
Six days after 14-year-old Avonte Oquendo was last seen running away from his Queens school, family, friends and volunteers are ramping up their search for the missing mute autistic boy, relying on the community to mobilize and keep awareness high. Checkey Beckford reports.
A week after 14-year-old Avonte Oquendo was last seen running away from his Queens school, family, friends and volunteers are ramping up their search for the missing mute autistic boy, relying on the community to mobilize and keep awareness high.
The missing teen's brother, Danny Oquendo, is the driving force behind the volunteer searches and flier handouts. He has set up a command post under a tent near Center Boulevard School in Long Island City, where Avonte was last seen.
"We get leads throughout the day, and whenever we get them, we try to take them seriously," said Danny Oquendo. "We call police detectives, then volunteers who go to that area."
One lead Thursday led volunteers to Tompkins Square Park, where someone reported the mute teen was seen with a homeless man. It turned out to be a false report, but that didn't stop Wesley Miller from posting fliers and looking around, something he's been doing for days.
"I've been on my bike riding all over Long Island City, Astoria, Jackson Heights, and along the waterfront with my kayak," he said.
Back at the tent in Long Island City, Avonte's father, Daniel Oquendo, spent the entire night Thursday searching for his son. He said in an interview about 4 a.m. Friday that he hadn't slept more than about 12 hours since his son went missing.
"We can't even sleep," he said. "It's hard to sleep knowing your child is out there and he could be cold and hungry and he can't even communicate."
Despite the countless volunteers -- including 75 mothers who Thursday alone handed out more than 900 fliers -- searchers say they need more help to bring Avonte home to his family.
"We're already at what day? The whole city should have known about it after day one," said Cerbone.
A vigil for Avonte is scheduled to be held Friday at 5 p.m. at the tent next to Center Boulevard School in Long Island City.