QUEENS — As the family and police continue to sift through hundreds of tips about Avonte Oquendo, a Rego Park teen with autism who has been missing for more than a week, the reward offered for his safe return has climbed to $70,000.
Avonte, 14, who can't speak, was seen on surveillance footage running away from the Riverview School at 1-50 51st Ave. in Long Island City just before 12:40 p.m. on Oct. 4.
The reward for finding Avonte stood at $50,000 late last week but has now increased to $70,000, thanks to new donations from David Perecman, the family's lawyer; Health First, Avonte's mother's employer; and Autism Speaks co-founders Suzanne and Bob Wright, according to Autism Speaks.
Avonte's brother, Danny Oquendo, said police officers told him that New Yorkers have called the NYPD's hotline with hundreds of tips since Avonte went missing, and every possibility is being thoroughly checked.
“It’s very stressful but we have a lot of people here and we are still searching,” Oquendo said. “We are not giving up.”
He also said that at this point he believes “the strongest possibility is that someone is holding” his brother against his will.
Police have been searching subway tunnels looking for Avonte, who, according to the family, is fascinated with the subway system.
The NYPD also posted on its Facebook page that Avonte "is known to put his fingers in his ears and has a habit of tapping and rubbing his index finger-pads, and chewing on his collar.... He loves trains."
A Facebook page called Bring Avonte Home has also been created to coordinate search efforts, and volunteers are continuing to camp out in Long Island City under a tent set up across the street from Avonte's school.
Other donors to the reward fund include Manhattan law firm Mayerson & Associates, nonprofit autism school Manhattan Children’s Center and the Gelb Family Foundation, which offered $5,000 each. Autism Speaks also received a $35,000 anonymous donation to find the teen, said Lisa Goring, vice president of family services for Autism Speaks.
Avonte's family plans to sue the city for $25 million in connection with the teen's disappearance, Perecman said. Perecman filed a notice of claim with the city comptroller's office on Oct. 9, the first step to filing a lawsuit.
Avonte was last seen wearing a gray striped shirt, black jeans and black sneakers, police said. He is 5 foot 3 and weighs 125 pounds.
Anyone with information is asked to call the NYPD's Crime Stoppers Hotline at 800-577-TIPS. The public can also submit tips by logging onto the Crime Stoppers website at WWW.NYPDCRIMESTOPPERS.COM or by texting their tips to 274637(CRIMES), then entering TIP577.