Despite a citywide effort to find him and bring him home, 14 year old Avonte Oquendo will not be rejoining his family. Medical examiners have confirmed that his DNA matches that of body parts found last week along the East River shoreline.
Read Related: A Mom’s Personal Journey with Autism
Avonte, who had severe autism and could not communicate verbally or take care of himself, walked away from his Queens, New York school in October of 2013, and his family, police and local community members launched an all-out search to find him. Streets, stores, restaurants, subway trains and buses were plastered with his photos. Groups of volunteers and law enforcement officers scoured the East River waterfront near his school, and every street, alley and train station in the vicinity.
Last week, a grim discovery began to cast further doubt on Avonte’s safe return. Human remains had washed up on the shore of the East River, and the clothing found with them–a size 5 ½ Air Jordan sneaker and size 16 jeans–matched those worn by Avonte when he was last seen. Yesterday, DNA samples from several members of Avonte’s family confirmed what everyone was dreading; the remains were of the young boy.
The mystery of Avonte’s disappearance and death may never be solved. Only Avonte knew why he walked away from his school, and he would not have been able to communicate this even if he had survived. His remains, mostly bone, were in so many pieces that investigators may never be able to determine his cause of death or how long his body had been in the water. And they may never know whether Avonte died alone, or if he was murdered.
For Avonte’s mother, who must have worried about his wellbeing and safety every day even before he disappeared, the unthinkable has happened. As mothers, fathers, sisters and brothers, we here at Mamiverse all grieve her tragic loss and send our prayers and support to the Oquendo family.