Safety Agent Not to Blame for Avonte Oquendo Going Missing, Kelly Says
LONG ISLAND CITY — There appeared to be no wrongdoing on the part of the school safety agent on duty the day that autistic teen Avonte Oquendo disappeared from his school, NYPD Commissioner Raymond Kelly said.
As investigators continue to search for the boy, who has been missing for nearly two weeks, Kelly reportedly said Wednesday that the safety officer at the Riverview School in Long Island City encountered Avonte near the building's front door, and instructed him to go back upstairs.
The teen then went down the hallway and exited through a side door.
“You see nothing after this juncture that shows the conduct of the school safety agent was inappropriate or there was any misconduct involved,” Kelly said, according to the Wall Street Journal.
The commissioner's comments came as police, family and volunteers continued to conduct a massive search for the missing 14-year-old, who cannot speak. There is a $70,000 reward for information related to the case.
On Wednesday, Department of Sanitation trucks and machinery were seen removing debris in an abandoned lot in Long Island City, next to the Water Taxi Parking on 2nd Street, according to witnesses.
Police officers and Emergency Services Unit officers, some dressed in protective plastic suits, were also seen helping to remove debris at the site.
It is unclear what, specifically, the workers were looking for. A Sanitation spokeswoman confirmed that the department was assisting the NYPD in the search for Avonte by providing the machinery.
Police have also begun to use a recording of Avonte's mother's voice in the search, broadcast from the speakers of a van that was seen driving around the Long Island City neighborhood Wednesday.
Avonte was last seen running away from his school at 1-50 51 Ave. on Oct. 4.
His family filed a notice of claim last week, the first step in filing a lawsuit against the city, alleging that the school did not properly supervise Avonte and that it was not timely in notifying them and the police that he was missing.
"I understand the commissioner’s desire to absolve the security agent, the safety agent, of responsibility, because the safety agent is indeed an employee of his department," attorney David Perecman said in response to Kelly's remarks, adding that he and Avonte's family are appreciative of the NYPD's search efforts.
"He may be right to the extent that it's really not an NYPD mistake, because these employees, to my knowledge, get their directions from the Department of Education," he said, saying the school should have had better procedures in place to prevent students from leaving the building.
"The side exit should have been alarmed if it's not guarded," he said. The security guard could have said more to Avonte or called the principal after seeing the teen near the front entrance, he said.
Perecman also pointed to a delay between when Avonte left the school and when staff notified police that he was missing.
"In my mind and in the family's mind, they still failed," he said.
In an e-mail, a Department of Education spokeswoman said the department is reviewing procedures in response to the incident.
"Protocols and procedures are being reviewed as a part of the ongoing investigation," the spokeswoman said.