The disappearance of 14 year-old Avonte Oquendo touched all New Yorkers and for months, many volunteers joined in the search. On Saturday, Avonte's family said thank you. Mahsa Saeidi filed the following report.
With the Whitestone Bridge as a backdrop, they held hands in College Point Saturday to remember a life lost too soon. The pain was still visible on the faces of Avonte Oquendo's family.
Despite that, they wanted to personally thank everyone who prayed and searched for their 14-year-old boy.
"We just came out here to give thanks to everybody for the support and for the love,” said Daniel Oquendo, Avonte’s father.
Avonte, who was autistic, was caught on surveillance video running out of his Queens public school on October 4. He was non-verbal and could not communicate with anyone. Despite a massive search to find the teen, last month his remains were found along the East River. His father says it takes a community to prevent tragedies like this.
"If you see someone, some kid that is walking by himself that he should be accompanied by an adult or something, you know, take the time out to question,” said Daniel Oquendo.
"It's very sad,” said Daisy Venero, who searched for Avonte. "From the very beginning, we connected with the family. And we prayed for him."
Venero introduced a NY1 reporter to her son Brian, who was born 10 days before Avonte.
"He reminds me a lot of my son because the eyes are so magnetic and you just get drawn into his face,” said Venero.
Venero says that Brian, who is also autistic, has wandered off in the past.
Like Avonte, he is drawn to trains and water, not fully aware of the danger.
"It's a struggle everyday and we feel as though we have to be that much more protective of our children,” Venero said.
If anything positive has come out of this tragedy it's the community and awareness that has been strengthened.
Earlier this week the Department of Justice agreed to fund voluntary tracking devices for children with autism.
The law is named after Avonte and Venero says she plans on using the device to help keep Brian safe.