The city medical examiner confirmed Tuesday that the remains found in Queens last week were those of Avonte Oquendo, the 14-year old boy with autism who disappeared from his school in October. NY1's Lindsey Christ filed the following report.
For months, Avonte Oquendo has been present in his absence, the subject of posters, subway announcements, wide-ranging search efforts and his mother's pleas, broadcast from police vans.
The massive search for the boy who couldn't speak or care for himself is now over. DNA testing confirms that Avonte's remains were found last week in the College Point section of Queens, miles up the East River from where he was last seen, leaving his school in Long Island City.
David Perecman, the family's attorney, said that the 14-year-old's mother had remained hopeful right up until the city confirmed his death.
"She finally just broke down," Perecman said. "This is the first time, except for brief moments, where I saw Vanessa just crying and crying."
Earlier, the family filed notice that they might sue the Department of Education, but said they were waiting for final word on Avonte before deciding whether to do it. Now, the attorney says the family is in mourning.
"They will go through the stages that you have to go through in order to accept what has happened," Perecman said. "I'm sure there will be anger."
Anger, he said, directed at what happened at the school, where a child with severe autism was able to run out the door, as seen on surveillance footage.
"There were so many things that went wrong," Perecman said. "It befuddles the mind."
Then, he said, the school's immediate response delayed the search process.
"I am convinced in my heart of hearts, had a prompt reaction occurred, had some of this cascade of errors not occurred, that the police would have been called, they would have went outside and they would have found Avonte before this happened. He'd be home right now," Perecman said.
The special investigator for the Department of Education has an open case looking into what happened.
In a statement, Schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña said she's "heartbroken."
"I am determined that we learn every lesson we can from this terrible tragedy," her statement read, in part.
For Avonte and his family, those lessons are too late.