New York City authorities announced on Monday that the reward for the safe return of missing autistic teen Avonte Oquendo has been raised from $20,000 to $70,000. The additional money comes from an anonymous donation through the research and advocacy organization, Autism Speaks.
C.J. Volpe, director of media relations at Autism Speaks, said that Friday’s anonymous donation was earmarked for the search for 14-year-old Avonte Oquendo — the mute, autistic teen who disappeared from Center Boulevard School in Queens, N.Y., on Oct. 4. Speaking to CNN, he said that volunteers and employees from the organization have joined the citywide search effort, which now enters its second week.
"We're all just praying for his safe return and we want to do everything we can to support the family,” Volpe said. “People in our community are rallying together and doing what we can to ensure that he comes home."
The previous reward of $20,000 consists of four separate $5,000 donations from Mayerson & Associates, a Manhattan law firm representing individuals with autism; Manhattan’s Children Center, a nonprofit private autism school; Health First, where Oquendo’s mother is employed; and The Perecman Firm, which currently represents the family.
Attorney David Perecman, who on behalf of the Oquendo family is filing a civil suit against the city of New York, told reporters that he is currently investigating how the autistic teen managed to leave the school grounds without supervision. So far, the school has declined to comment on the matter.
"Right now, we have submitted a Freedom of Information Act request to the city and the various agencies involved, in order to obtain the information for us to know what occurred," Perecman explained.
Oquendo is described as being 5-feet-3-inches and weighing 125 lbs. Surveillance footage shows him running from Center Boulevard School at around 12:45 p.m. on Friday Oct. 4. He was last seen wearing a gray striped shirt, black sneakers, and black jeans. If you have any information about someone matching the description, call the NYPD’s Crime Stoppers Hotline at 800-577-TIPS.
"I just need to find my son because he needs his family, he cannot fend for himself out there," Oquendo’s mother, Vanessa Fontaine, told reporters. "This is just the hardest thing to have your child disappear, and you cannot bring him home with you."