Funeral services were held Saturday for Avonte Oquendo, the Queens 14-year-old who went missing in October. NY1's Arlene Borenstein filed the following report.
The mother of Avonte Oquendo followed her son's casket after a special mass Saturday for the teenage boy at St. Joseph's Catholic Church. Cameras were not allowed inside, and only a few family members chose to speak.
"It's hard for everybody to sleep. It's hard for everybody to get together because everybody's mourning," said Bria Fontaine, Avonte's cousin. "We've been mourning for so long."
"He's our family. He's our family. We love him," said Kirk Patrick, Avonte's cousin. "I am so hurt."
Avonte, who was autistic and unable to speak, ran out of his school in Long Island City in October.
This week, remains that washed ashore in Queens were confirmed to be Avonte's.
Among the more than 700 people at the mass were the volunteers who searched for the boy for months.
"Though we never met him, Avonte became everyone's little brother," said Jan Tilley, a volunteer who helped search for Avonte. "We got to know the family, and we have come to love Avonte and his family like they are our family."
Before the mass, there was a private service at Greenwich Village funeral home, where some family members tried to find some solace.
"Sad ending, but it's, I guess, closure," said Annette Oquendo, Avonte's aunt. "We're all here for support. We're all coming from all over."
Others close to the family are determined to make sure Avonte's death will not go in vain.
"He touched the lives, like I said, of so many people, and it hurts, but it's a blessing when you look at it from God's way, 'cause he's going to unify a lot of people," said Leslie Burch, a family friend. "He's going to create awareness for a lot of people, as far as autistic and as far as the schools, how we watch children and make sure that they're taken care of when they're inside the school."
Three city departments are investigating what happened to Avonte before and after he left his school. As for Saturday, the funeral home and church covered all costs for the family, and Avonte was cremated following the mass at St. Joseph's.