GREENWICH VILLAGE — Family members of Avonte Oquendo filed into a Manhattan funeral home Saturday to say their final farewells to the 14-year-old boy who met an untimely end.
Avonte, who was autistic, was last seen alive on Oct. 4, running out of his Long Island City school. After his remains were found and identified last week, the Rego Park boy's family was finally able to gain closure after months of searching for the young teen, who could not communicate verbally.
A private wake was held at 9 a.m. at the Greenwich Village Funeral Home, followed by a public ceremony at St. Joseph's Church, at 371 Sixth Ave., which was filled to capacity.
A picture of Avonte dressed in a blue striped shirt was placed next to the altar, and his family sat in a front pew.
Outside the Bleecker Street funeral home a woman who described herself as a close family friend spoke.
"He was a special child. All autistic children are special," Leslie Bosch said. "They're angels. He touched so many people. I really hope this creates awareness about the issue."
Avonte's remains were found Jan. 16 by a student shooting photographs at the beach, who notified police. Other remains, including the child's skull, were found last weekend, officials said.
Cardinal Edward Egan, who was archbishop of New York from 2000 to 2009, presided over the service.
"He was a strong and courageous young man, who handled the struggle with autism with immense grace," said Egan. "Avonte was a creation fashioned in the image and likeness of God."
Avonte's parents were silent through much of the service, though one of Avonte's grandmothers burst into tears toward the end.
The family's lawyer, David Perecman, urged the congregation to continue pushing for answers from the city on Avonte's disappearance.
"We must stand by the family as we stood by them during the search for Avonte. This should not be the last chapter. We have to examine what happened with great diligence — learn what was not done that should have been done. How did we the guardians of this special chid allow him to vanish?"
Since Avonte's disappearance from the Riverview School, his family has twice petitioned the NYPD via the Freedom of Information Law for files relating to the investigation into his departure from the school. Twice the NYPD has rejected the requests, claiming it would invade privacy and intefere with the investigation.
After Avonte's remains were discovered, his family filed a court order requesting access to the records.