It’s been two weeks since Avonte Oquendo went missing from his Long Island City school, and police are no closer to finding the non-verbal autistic 14-year-old. In the hopes of jogging someone’s memory, the NYPD released an image of the exact shirt that Avonte was wearing on October 4, the day he walked out of the Center Boulevard School at 1-50 51st Avenue. The Wall Street Journal reports that teams of officers are now working from a command center in the school’s student laboratory and retracing all of their steps around the neighborhood, the borough, and the city at large. Dennis DeQuatro, deputy chief of the Patrol Borough Bronx, said, “We’re basically working our way backwards, back out from the school itself.” Despite the effort, fellow Deputy Chief James Molloy, of the Queens Detective Bureau, admitted, “Right now, we’re still where we were two weeks ago, unfortunately. We’ve done a lot of work but it has not been productive.”
That work includes two teams of NYPD divers scouring the East River with underwater cameras, the Emergency Services Unit looking into elevator shafts and ventilation ducts, as well as using “infrared cameras that can detect body heat in the event the boy was hiding where he couldn’t be seen.” Since Avonte disappeared, aviation units, trained dogs, and 135 Police Academy recruits were brought in as “a fresh set of eyes.” On a hunch that Avonte might take some food from a shop, officers also checked larceny arrests and the records of emotionally disturbed persons. Thursday night, the MTA took the unprecedented measure to halt track work, after learning that the past three times Avonte had gone missing, he was found in the subway, due to what his family revealed was a fascination with trains. Perhaps most heartbreaking is the report that a prerecorded message of Avonte’s mother, Vanessa Fontaine, saying, “Hello Avonte. This is your mom, Avonte, Come to the flashing lights, Avonte,” is being played from a van traveling throughout the city.
Despite their frustration, officials say they have no evidence that Avonte isn’t alive and still in the city. Further encouragement comes from the fact that no criminality is currently suspected and and no suspects have been named. “Our guys are out there. They’re doing their job. We don’t want to lose focus; we don’t want to lose sight. It’s obviously human nature after 14 days to have the feeling you want to give up; we’re not giving up. We’re not losing hope,” DeQuatro told a group of officers on Friday. NYPD Chief of Department Phillip Banks III agreed, adding, “There’s been a massive effort to locate this young man. We’re still relatively confident that he’s going to turn up.”