The family of Avonte Oquendo, the mute, autistic New York City teen who has been missing for more than two weeks, appealed to civil rights leader Rev. Al Sharpton’s National Action Network to get volunteers to find the 14-year-old boy.
Avonte, who is nonverbal, disappeared Oct. 4, when he ran out of the Center Boulevard School in the Long Island City section of Queens. Although Avonte is supposed to be supervised at all times at school, there were no aides with him when he ran off. Searches for Avonte have focused on subways and train tunnels because he is fascinated by trains.
Sharpton spoke about Avonte on Saturday as he addressed the National Action Network, the Harlem-based civil rights organization he founded.
“I think it’s important that they not have to bear this burden by themselves,” Sharpton said of the Oquendo family, according to Metro.
Avonte’s distraught father, Daniel Oquendo, appealed to the crowd to join the search effort for Avonte or to be on the lookout for the boy as they go about their daily routines.
“Be aware of your surroundings,” he said. “When you’re going to work, walking to the train, just keep your eyes open.”
Avonte’s mother, Vanessa Fontaine, told CNN’s Piers Morgan last week that she believed her child’s school was negligent in his disappearance. A family attorney, David Perecman, filed a notice of claim – the first step toward a lawsuit – against the city and school district.
Fontaine told the National Action Network that her missing child is “like a nightmare I can’t wake up from.”
Police and volunteers have flooded New York City streets and subway stations with Avonte’s picture. Subway trains have been running announcement about the missing teen, while the NYPD has been playing a recording of the voice of Avonte’s mother, hoping the nonverbal autistic teen will hear it.
A reward for Avonte’s safe return has been growing and has now risen to about $90,000, according to Metro.