Remembering Avonté Oquendo

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Beautiful remembrance photograph of Avonté that’s circulating on social media.

Today, I wanted to take a moment to remember Avonté Oquendo.  Yesterday, multiple news outlets reported that the body and clothing items found last week on the Queens side of the East River in New York were those of Avonté’s.  When I heard about the possibility of Avonté’s body being found last week, I was in deep denial.  As I read the confirmatory reports, I must be honest – my heart ached, and I wept.  I, like countless others, were hoping and praying for a happier ending to this missing child case.

I first learned about Avonté’s story in mid-October, when coverage of him being missing was heavily circulated on social media.  There were several massive search parties conducted to find Avonté that spread outside of his community.  Everyone wanted to bring Avonté safely home to his parents and loved ones.  Avonté was a 14-year-old who was autistic; Avonté was non-verbal, and had the cognitive ability of a seven to eight years old.  Despite these challenges, his mother, Vanessa Fontaine, hoped that Avonté would be able to hear the voices of herself, first responders, law enforcement officers, search crews, and other caring community members who were searching for him.
Numerous reports stated how Avonté’s mother steadfastly held onto hope for Avonté’s safe return until the DNA discovered were identified as those of Avonté’s .  I cannot even fathom the crushing grief his family is enduring at this moment.  To lose a loved one, especially a child, is an indescribable experience.
Avonté’s story inspired an article that appeared on the Ramp Your Voice! blog in early November about our missing children with special needs.  Tragically, there are thousands of “Avontés” that are missing each year in America, with a high percentage of missing children with disabilities being those who are autistic.  As I have reiterated on several occasions, more educational and understanding opportunities has to be implemented in order to decrease the number of children with special needs reported missing each year.  Seeing the widespread news and social media coverage of Avonté’s story gives me great confidence that the necessary awareness and call for action will take place.  Protecting our children with special needs has to be a priority; we can no longer afford to remain silent or ignorant towards what is occurring under our watch.
I ask that everyone reading this post to keep Avonté’s family in your thoughts and prayers during this time of sorrow.  Rest in Paradise, Avonté.  You are loved, and will be sorely missed, but never forgotten.
(Featured headlining image:  Courtesy of Taren916 on Facebook.)

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