Fourteen-year-old Avonte Oquendo has been missing since October 4. The autistic teenager hasn't been seen since he left his school in the middle of the day for reasons no one can explain. Authorities worry that the boy, who is obsessed with trains, might have hopped on one headed out of the city. As the days continue to pass, his family is becoming more and more worried and desperate to find new ways to bring their boy home.
I live in New York, not in the same neighborhood as Avonte and his family, but New York as a whole takes care of its own. My whole walk to the train and beyond is papered with fliers featuring Avonte's face and a phone number to call should we find him. With each flier I pass, I feel my heart sink. I study his face each time to try and brand it on my memory in case I see him. In case I can help. I feel frustrated, and if I'm feeling that way, I can't imagine how his family must feel.
It's inspiring, in the face of all this worry and sadness, to see that the authorities are thinking of new and off-beat ways to bring Avonte home. Because he cannot speak, there are concerns that he won't be able to reach out for help -- even if he wanted to. Keeping this in mind, the authorities came up with an interesting new tactic that could be the key to bringing the boy back to his family.
Police vans with flashing lights are patrolling areas where the authorities believe they are most likely to find the boy. This is typical police procedure. What's not so typical is the message being issued from the external loudspeakers. They are playing a recording of Avonte's mother, Vanessa Fontaine, telling him that his mom is looking for him, telling him to walk toward the flashing lights. It's both equal parts heartbreaking and reassuring. As sad as it is to hear the sound of a worried mother echoing down the streets, this could be the route that's the most successful in finding Avonte and reuniting him with his family.
What other things should the police be doing to bring Avonte home?
Image via Barbara Woike/Corbis