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Avonte Oquendo's Disappearance 'Ate Away at our Souls,' Brother Says

 Avonte Oquendo's remains were found in the East River in January, three months after he'd gone missing from his special needs school.
Avonte Oquendo's remains were found in the East River in January, three months after he'd gone missing from his special needs school.
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QUEENS — The brother of Avonte Oquendo spoke out about his loss in a touching blog post on Friday, thanking New Yorkers for their efforts in searching for the autistic teen and offering a possible theory on what may have happened to boy, whose disappearance transfixed the city for months. 

In a post on the website for advocacy group Autism Speaks, Danny Oquendo wrote that his younger brother — whose remains were discovered on a beach in College Point in January — may have jumped into the river in a state of panic near his special needs school.

"It turns out that shortly after running out of the school, in his frightened and panic state, he possibly jumped into the water and drowned," Oquendo wrote. "Unfortunately this is only our best guess as the Medical Examiner was unable to determine the exact cause of death."

Avonte, who did not communicate verbally and had a tendency to run, went missing from The Riverview School in Long Island City on Oct. 4. His disappearance sparked a citywide search, and his death ignited calls for greater protections for special needs children and the need for stronger security measures in city schools.

In his post on Friday, Avonte's brother said that every minute the 14-year-old was missing "felt like years of torture," to his family.

"Not knowing whether we would see our beloved Avonte again ate away our souls," Oquendo wrote.

He then reflected on the citywide search for his brother and the mass of dedicated volunteers who turned out to help his family look, an effort Oquendo described as "one of the most inspiring events to ever occur in my lifetime."

"We went from a small family searching night and day for our loved one to a large operation with thousands of volunteers ready and willing to help in every possible way," he wrote.

"What was even more inspiring was that every volunteer I had the opportunity of meeting acted as if Avonte was their own flesh and blood. It turns out that before it was all said and done Avonte did indeed become the beloved son of the city."

Oquendo said that he hopes Avonte’s disappearance will serve as a catalyst for reforming school systems to better protect special needs children, from increased training for staff to more advanced security in school buildings.

"While we may never know what exactly happened to my younger brother, what we can do is help to avoid this tragic event from happening again," he said. "Let us make certain that Avonte Oquendo's death is not in vain."