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Avonte Oquendo's Mother Warned of Son's Tendency to 'Run,' Probe Finds

By Ben Fractenberg | March 27, 2014 3:10pm | Updated on March 27, 2014 7:02pm
 Avonte Oquendo's mother warned his teacher that her autistic son report might try to run away, according to a  Special Commissioner of Investigation report released Thursday. 
Oquendo SCI Report
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QUEENS — The mother of Avonte Oquendo warned her autistic son's teacher that "he likes to run," but the teacher failed to pass on the information to the school's administration, a stinging schools investigation revealed Thursday.

The Special Commissioner of Investigation report also cited a litany of other failures surrounding the 14-year-old boy's escape from the Riverview School in Long Island City on Oct. 4, 2013, which sparked a months-long search that ended in his remains were found on a beach in College Point in January.

"I did write that my son was a runner. [The's teacher] knew that," said Avonte's mother, Vanessa Fontaine, during a press conference at hew lawyers office Thursday afternoon. "I guess she disregarded it. She didn't tell anyone."

Other failures cited by the SCI included not locking down the school after Avonte dashed out of the building through an open door, not having enough school safety agents in place, confusion about where Avonte had gone after he disappeared and teachers who escorted the boy being out of their normal positions.

The agency's report has been turned over to the Queens District Attorney's office, whose spokeswoman confirmed it is under review.

While the special school investigator did not draw any conclusions in its report, the most jarring finding was that his mother's warning to teacher Julie Murray was not shared with others.

"Safety concerns — Please make sure you keep an eye out he likes to run,"Fontaine wrote, according to the report. "Need 1-1 supervisor will leave the building."

The statement, which was noted on a questionnaire that the teacher sent to parents at the beginning of the year, was not noted on Avonte's Individualized Education Program, the report said.

Murray told investigators she informed her classroom's paraprofessionals about Fontaine's concerns and took "other precautions" to keep Avonte from running off, according to the report. 

However, the report painted a very different picture of what the boy's family told officials at his prior school, PS 4.

There, teachers said that his mother never mentioned that Avonte had a tendency to run. She and the boy's grandmother also did not mention that concern at the boy's IEP meeting, the document said.

The faculty there also described him as "prompt dependent," looking to adults for instruction before doing anything, the report said.

Avonte's mother declined to be interviewed by SCI investigators, the report said.

Avonte was heading back from the cafeteria on Oct. 4 with a group of students and three school workers when he managed to break away unnoticed, according to the report.  

Security camera footage from Oct. 4 showed a first floor door had been left open for about 30 minutes before Avonte ran through it. About three minutes later a school safety agent closed the door.

No one was reassigned as a result of the investigation, but  SCI referred its findings to schools chancellor Carmen Fariña.

Fontaine's lawyer, David Perecman, complained that the report did not hold anyone responsible for the child's disappearance.

"Based on the report, they have not learned from what happened," Perecman said. "They all made mistakes."

"We will file a lawsuit against the city of New York," he added during a press conference. "Part of the claim is Avonte's death and suffering."

The lawyer didn't say when the suit will be filed.

A message for the United Federation of Teachers was not immediately returned.

Avonte's grieving mother said the family is still waiting on documents from the NYPD about their investigation into her son's death.

"No one knows how I feel," said Fontaine. "There is no closure for us, maybe for them. Not from us. This family needs closure."