Avonte Oquendo's Remains Likely Found, but Family Still Hopes He's Alive

By Murray WeissJeanmarie Evelly and Aidan Gardiner  on January 17, 2014 6:58am

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 A girl taking pictures in College Point may have found the bones of a missing autistic boy, reports said.
Police Search for Avonte Oquendo
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COLLEGE POINT — The family of missing autistic teen Avonte Oquendo is clinging to hope he's alive, even as sources say the boy's remains were likely found washed up on a Queens beach.

A girl was taking pictures near Powell Cove Boulevard and Endeavor Place in College Point Thursday night when she found what appeared to be an arm and legs along with clothing that resembled what Avonte wore when he disappeared three months ago, source said.

"This morning, when I spoke to [his mother], she just said, 'It's not Avonte until it's Avonte,'" said the family's lawyer, David Perecman, during a Friday press conference.

"She's not going to be convinced it's her son until there's enough to convince her."

The remains washed ashore "quite a while ago" in an area that is "totally inaccessible" from the street and became so badly decomposed that they could not be immediately identified, sources said.

Searchers eventually recovered a left arm, legs and other bones, sources said.

They also found size 16 jeans and a size five-and-a-half Nike Air Jordan sneaker, Perecman said. Sources said a distinctive gray and white striped shirt was discovered at the scene.

The items seemed to match what 14-year-old Avonte was wearing when he was last seen running out of the Riverview School in Long Island City on Oct. 4, sources said.

Avonte's mother, Vanessa Fontaine, was going to provide a DNA sample to the medical examiner's office to help determine if the remains were her boy's, Perecman said. The office had a sample from his father on file which the medical examiner can also use, the lawyer added.

The medical examiner may also consult anthropologists to help identify the remains, spokeswoman Julie Bolcer said. She wouldn't provide further details or give an estimate of when they would be identified. Sources said it would be three or four days.

"We are conducting a complete examination," she said.

The find did not show any signs of criminality, sources said.

The rest of the body hadn't been found as of early Friday afternoon. Police were conducting a grid search of the area with cadaver dogs and deployed  boats into the nearby waters while helicopters circled overhead, a spokesman at the scene said.

Avonte's disappearance sparked a citywide, months-long search involving volunteers, an army of police and other city workers. They posted flyers in shop windows, played announcements in the transit system and even broadcast a recording of his mother's voice.

"[Avonte's mother] doesn’t seem to have ever lost hope," Perecman said. "She gets up in the morning. She cries her eyes out. She wipes her tears and then she goes out and does what she has to do."

Investigators focused on the transit system because Avonte may have liked trains and would be drawn to them.

They also focused their attention to the waterways around the city because experts said children with autism are frequently drawn to bodies of water without fully comprehending the dangers.

During the Friday press conference, Perecman cautioned against jumping to conclusions about the remains by disputing Avonte's affinity for trains or water.

The wide-ranging search for Avonte turned up some leads but also false starts, like a picture taken on the subway of a boy who looked like Avonte, but wasn't.

Police planned to continue to scour the College Point beach Saturday morning during low tide to try and recover more of the remains, sources said.

Anyone with information is asked to call Crime Stoppers at (800) 577-TIPS (8477).

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