The blows just keep on coming for the family of missing autistic teenager Avonte Oquendo. Earlier this week police warned they would be scaling down the search for the 14-year-old because of a lack of credible leads. Now the New York Police Commissioner has come out with the worst news yet: he believes Avonte is dead.
Mind you, Ray Kelly doesn't actually know that Avonte is dead. In fact, the only thing anyone knows for sure is that on October 4, the 14-year-old left his high school in Queens, where safety measures seemed to have failed. Surveillance footage shows him running down the halls of Public School 277. And then. Nothing.
So how can the police say a boy is dead?
How can they do that to his grieving family? Tell them to just give up hope?
It's not that I don't feel for Kelly here; I do. He's got a tough job trying to explain to this family and to the rest of the world why he's not going to keep expending man hours on a search for this child. You can tell his words to the media were very carefully crafted:
Unfortunately, we are not hopeful that we’re going to find this young man alive, but we are continuing our search.
But even weighing my sympathy for Kelly's precarious position, I still can't help but feel this is unfair to Avonte's mom and dad.
The cops themselves have said they have had no credible leads. So how can they say he's gone?
It's tricky, isn't it? Avonte is non-verbal, something that has complicated his case from the start. Because of his particular autism diagnosis, the teenager can't be expected to help himself in ways that other kids might be able to. He can't announce himself to someone as that missing kid on the news.
And now that three weeks have officially passed -- today marks the third Friday since Avonte disappeared -- with no credible tips or leads, one could assume that something horrible happened to the boy.
One could, but do they have to?
There's an old saying, "no news is good news." It's something families cling to when their loved one is missing. If cops haven't found a dead body, if they don't have a murderer in custody, then they can keep up the faith that their loved one might still be found ... and more importantly be found alive.
The question is: who are the police to tell a grieving family that it's over, that they should give up that hope?
As another famous New York icon, Yogi Berra, once said, it ain't over till it's over.
What would you need to hear from cops to actually give up hope?