LONG ISLAND CITY — The family of autistic Queens teenager Avonte Oquendo said they remain hopeful the boy will be found as the search for the missing 14-year-old is about to enter its fourth week.
"My son is still out there, and I want everyone to continue to help me search for my son — he is not gone," Avonte's mother Vanessa Fontaine said Friday, a day after NYPD Commissioner Ray Kelly said he's "not hopeful" the missing boy will be found alive.
"I don’t know what the commissioner was thinking of last night by saying that, but my son, he's alive, he's out there," Fontaine said.
An attorney for the family, David Perecman, said he was "taken aback," when he heard Kelly's comment.
"There is no evidence that Avonte is not alive," he said, adding that he will ask the commissioner "please to not make statements like that.
"It's reckless because it hurts people who want to search, and it dampens the effort of some people in the community who want to come out and look," Perecman said.
Police, family, friends and volunteers have been scouring the city in a massive search since Avonte, who is autistic and cannot speak, disappeared from his Long Island City school on Oct. 4.
At a separate press conference Friday, Kelly said the NYPD was continuing with their search efforts, with more than 80 detectives still assigned to the case.
"The search continues and the dedication of resources continues," he said, saying investigators have looked into hundreds of leads and are continuing to comb through 196 pieces of video.
"We have nothing at this juncture that we can say is him other than the video of when he leaves the school," Kelly said, referring to a video that shows Avonte running away from The Riverview School in Long Island City after exiting the building through a side door.
Kelly said the video shows Avonte left the school and entered Hunters Point South Park across the street.
"He walks all the way down to the water. There's a path right next to the East River. We then lose sight of him," Kelly said.
"There's another video that shows someone coming out of the park, but it's not clear enough to say that with any degree of certainty that it's the young man," he added.
Avonte's family continued to push for answers about how the boy was able to leave his special needs school undetected, their attorney said Friday.
"Avonte is supposed to get constant supervision," said Perecman, who said the incident at The Riverview School took place during a transition between classes.
Police have said the teen encountered a school safety agent at the building's front door who told him to go back upstairs. Avonte then walked down a hallway and left through a side door.
"They’re concerned about who gets in the school but apparently less concerned about who gets out of the school," Perecman said, questioning why the side door did not have an alarm and why no one noticed Avonte leaving on video monitors.
The family has filed a notice of their intention to sue the city, alleging the school failed to properly supervise Avonte.
The Riverview School, in District 75, is housed in a newly opened building at 1-50 51st Ave. where two other general education schools are also located. Perecman said the fact that the building just opened, and that it houses several different schools, further complicated safety procedures there.
Avonte's family continued to organize search efforts and asked for volunteers to come out and help.
The family set up a 24-hour command center in two small tents across the street from The Riverview school, where they've distributing fliers bearing Avonte's picture.
"I’m never going to give up looking for my son, and I don’t want anyone else to give up looking for him," Fontaine said. "He’s still alive."
Avonte was last seen wearing a gray striped shirt, black jeans and black sneakers. 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.