When news broke yesterday that the dismembered remains found in Queens last week belonged to Avonte Oquendo, the 14-year-old autistic teen who went missing back in October, a great wave of sadness came over quite a few people. After months of seeing posters all around the train stations I walked in, to know this young man didn’t make it made me extraordinarily sad for his family. And as they mourn the death of their child, they also want answers, specifically from the city of New York, and Oquendo’s school, Center Boulevard School in Queens, where he was last seen.
Oquendo’s mother, Vanessa Fontaine, just filed court papers today, asking the city to hand over their private internal report on how her son was able to walk out of the Center Boulevard School without anyone noticing. The city previously rejected her request in the past, as those behind the private files said it wasn’t “relevant” to the police search and said handing over that info could interfere with police investigations. Fontaine’s lawyer, David Perecman, wants the city to overturn their previous decision and seeks to use the information to help the family file what the New York Daily News says will be a $25 million dollar wrongful death lawsuit. According to the Daily News:
Perecman said that the family knows from press reports and limited data released by city officials that there was a delay by school officials of 45 minutes to an hour before the NYPD was notified of the boy’s disappearance.
The family has said that Oquendo was not supervised properly, despite the school knowing that the child had a history of wandering away during transitions, which is why he was able to run out of the school without anyone noticing. A teacher’s aide noticed too late that Oquendo was missing from class on October 4 after lunch around 12:40, but it wasn’t until 2:30 that surveillance footage was able to be looked at to see where he might have gone according to the Business Insider. Perecman says that confusion in trying to obtain access codes from the School Security Division held things up too.
And after waiting 45 minutes to call the police, they also waited an hour to call Fontaine. With all these things in mind, the family would have a pretty strong case.
Whether or not the family files a suit against the city, this is just a terribly sad series of events. And while a lawsuit won’t bring Oquendo back, it will hopefully help to keep something like this from happening again.