Report released on disappearance of autistic teen Avonte Oquendo

Josh Einiger reports on the disappearance and death of Avonte Oquendo
March 28, 2014 3:52:50 AM PDT
New York City's Special Commissioner of Investigation Richard J. Condon released his report Thursday on the disappearance of Avonte Oquendo from his Queens school.

"My son is still not here, my son is lost, he's gone from this family," said Vanessa Fontaine, Avonte's mother.

Vanessa Fontaine did everything she thought she had to do to protect her son Avonte Oquendo.

She even submitted a warning, in writing, to his teacher. She warned that the autistic 14-year-old was likely to run.

And yet, this scathing report details a cascade of errors and policy violations at P277 The Riverview School that allowed Avonte to do just that.

"You can't just let people get away with what they did. Who's watching these children?" Fontaine said.

The shocking answer, when it came to Avonte last October, was no one.

The report was released Thursday by the Department of Education's internal watchdog. It paints a grim picture of the non-verbal teen's escape.

It happened as a teacher and paraprofessional were moving his special needs class from the fifth to the second floor, but he instead went to the ground floor, right past a security guard, and through an open door onto the street.

But the guard told administrators she saw Avonte go back upstairs.

On surveillance video, Avonte is seen entering the fifth floor stairwell with the group of students at 12:36 p.m. The group started exiting the stairwell on the second floor at 12:37:02 p.m. and the group did not finishing exiting unit 12:38:11.

"The search focuses really on the interior of the school rather than the outside. Big mistake," said Richard J. Condon, New York City's Special Commissioner of Investigation.

It was a mistake that wasted precious time, nearly an hour before police were called.

And by then, Avonte was gone. The search continued from the subways to the river for months until his remains washed up in College Point in January.

The situation was truly tragic. DOE released in a statement, "Today, we learned more about what happened on that fateful day. We are reviewing the report closely and are committed to working diligently to prevent another tragedy like this, from ever occurring again."

Officials say they've already implemented changes at campuses that house kids with special needs.

"There's more, now we take on safety lockdowns and all of that so we practice them every time, just in case anything happens," a student said.

The door that Avonte fled out of was left open for 30 minutes by an unknown man who, to this day, remains unidentified.

The Special Commissioner of Investigation has referred the report to the Queens District Attorney's office for potential criminal prosecution.

The New York City medical examiner's office said the cause and manner of death for Avonte could not be determined.