It's been more than two weeks since Avonte Oquendo went missing, but the family of the 14-year-old teen isn't giving up hope that he will be found, and volunteers met up near Avonte's Long Island City school Sunday to distribute flyers. NY1's Steve Kastenbaum filed the following report.
With a prayer to send them on their way, dozens of people showed up Sunday at the park across from the school where Avonte Oquendo was last seen. Most had no connection to the Oquendo family. They said they were just moved by this story and felt compelled to help.
"The police cannot do it by themself. They need help," said volunteer Martha Hernandez. "The community had the opportunity to go to different places and spread the word. That is the main reason why I believe that we can do more than just standing for and waiting for news."
With missing person flyers in their hands and taped to their backs, they fanned out on foot and in cars to search for the 14-year-old boy, who has autism and isn't able to communicate verbally. Avonte's father, Daniel Oquendo, remains optimistic that he will be found soon.
"He's definitely out there, so we know wherever he's at, he's probably being fed and taken care of," Daniel Oquendo said. "That's what we're staying optimistic about. We're not thinking about all the other scenarios that can happen. Another day, another search. Hopefully, this will be the last day.
A police helicopter rejoined the search looking for Avonte from above while a harbor patrol boat searched the shoreline and islands in the East River.
Since the search began, there have been several reports of the boy being spotted, but he has yet to be found.
"It's bittersweet, though," Daniel Oquendo said. "It's good to see all the attention on him, but at the same time, he's still, it's over two weeks, so it's tough. But it's good to see how everybody's pulling together at this time."
The volunteers who came out first thing in the morning vowed to continue searching everyday until Avonte is found.
Anyone with information on the case should contact the Crime Stoppers hotline at 1-800-577-TIPS, or text CRIMES and then enter TIP577, or visit www.nypdcrimestoppers.com.