Avonte Oquendo, an autistic fourteen-year-old, disappeared from his Long Island City public school on October 4th wearing a gray striped shirt, black jeans and black sneakers.
Nine-year-old Patrick Alford disappeared from Brooklyn in the beginning of 2010 wearing a red t-shirt, blue jeans, and sneakers. Jaliek Rainwalker was twelve when he went missing six years ago. Tatianna Lindo was fourteen when she disappeared from her Jamaica, Queens, home this past February.
Three hours after Avonte Oquendo was reported missing, bloodhounds were out tracking him. Three days later, divers were combing Newtown Creek and boats were deployed into the East River. Texas Equusearch offered up horses and four wheelers and ground searchers, drone airplanes, regular airplanes, and helicopters. A command center was set up, and t-shirts—“walking billboards”—with Avonte’s picture on it were printed. The Reverend Al Sharpton and his National Action Network organized community rallies and candlelight vigils. Hundreds of strangers have volunteered their time. The NYPD has invested untold manpower hours checking and posting flyers in all 468 train stations, every tunnel, abandoned station, and bathroom. Thermal imaging has been used to search the marshes. There is a Facebook page, and of course, hashtags—#FindAvonte, #PrayForAvonte, #BringAvonteHome—and Avonte’s mother’s voice repeats from a mobile van, the slightly creepy, “Come to the flashing lights, Avonte.” There are press conferences, and psychics, and lawyers, and the inevitable notice of claim filed against the city–five days after he disappeared, although they have a 90 day window to file–with a rumored ask of $25 million. And the reward money keeps climbing. It’s currently over $90,000.
There is no question that Avonte Oquendo deserves this much effort.
Just under 800,000 children disappear each year. That’s one every 40 seconds. Every single one of those children deserves this kind of effort. But, they don’t get it. There simply are not enough resources to put this kind of effort into trying to find every one of those 800,000 missing children. So, why Avonte?
Nine-year-old Patrick Alford is thirteen now, and still missing. Jaliek Rainwalker is eighteen, and they’ve just recently sent divers into the Hudson to look for him—six years later. Tatianna is still listed as missing. I didn’t know any of their names before I started writing this. I doubt anyone outside of close friends and family does. Strangers don’t know what they look like, you wouldn’t recognize them if you passed any one of them on the street.
You’d have to be living under a rock to not know what Avonte Oquendo looks like.
What is it about Avonte Oquendo that makes him more deserving of attention, effort, and airtime, more deserving of all of these resources than any other child? The autism? Then where were the bloodhounds and helicopters when another autistic teen, Liam Rooney of Suffolk County, disappeared on October 19? With the reality of limited resources, the thought I imagine is in the mind of every mother of every missing child when they hear about the helicopters, the divers, the vigils, #hashtags, flyers, police manpower, subway announcements, and the hundreds of volunteers: Why Avonte? And why not my child?
And now, the sidebar of the creep factor/ something is rotten in Queens
Creepier than the disembodied, emotionless voice blasting from that van is Vanessa Fontaine’s response when asked how she came up with that message: Hi Avonte, it’s Mom, Avonte. Come to the flashing lights, Avonte. She replied, “That is something I tell him when comes home from school. I always say ‘Hi Avonte.'”
Avonte disappeared on a Friday, and by Sunday the family had set up a Go Fund Me page (since cancelled)? Although they could have filed a claim any time within the three months, by that Wednesday they’d secured a lawyer and filed a claim against the city with the intention of a $25 million dollar lawsuit.
That’s from Avonte’s older brother Danny aka KingDetrick’s Facebook page. He’s pushing on all social media fronts to find his brother. There’s his instagram, which is a carbon copy of his tumblr, which is a carbon copy of his twitter, which you’d expect to be a carbon copy of his Facebook, but he’s not really active there. Why hasn’t someone so focused on getting the message out changed the cover photos of his instagram, tumblr, Twitter, or Facebook to photos of his brother. Where are the family photos, all the other pictures of this child? Are there just the two we’ve all become familar with? I have more pictures of my cat.
Want to ramp it up just a little bit more? There was a home video of the family singing Happy Birthday to Avonte, in what seems to be an apartment empty of all furniture other than the table the holds the cake, and the single chair where Avonte sits—oddly, wearing a shirt similar to the one he disappeared wearing—mouthing the words to the song while voices of his family sound anything but supportive. That video is tagged @stephwatts – a television crime journalist and producer. Had the family already made a television deal when that was posted on October 19?