Although African Americans make up just 13 percent of the U.S. population, we account for 33 percent of the missing in the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s database. Cases involving African Americans also tend to receive less media coverage than missing Whites, with missing men of color getting even less attention.
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To be a part of the solution, NewsOne will profile a missing person weekly and provide tips about how to keep your loved ones safe and what to do if someone goes missing, while TV One‘s newest show, “Find Our Missing,” hosted by award-winning actress S. Epatha Merkerson, tells these stories in visual form.
The family of missing mute teen Avonte Oquendo, who has autism, has filed a notice of claim that they intend to sue the Department of Education, after their son ran out of his Queens school a week ago.
Family members say Oquendo, 14, is supposed to have one-on-one supervision. Yet he is seen on security footage from the school running in the hallway by himself and then running out the door and down the street.
Despite an intensive search of subway tunnels and the East River using bloodhounds, Oquendo has not been spotted.
“It’s obvious that the school is liable,” Danny Oquendo, Avonte’s older brother, told DNAinfo New York.
The DOE has yet to explain what might have gone wrong.
Oquendo family attorney David Perecman told the New York Daily News that the teen may have been able to slip out of the Long Island City school while “a fight in the cafeteria distracted adults supervising him.” He said it took the school an hour to alert the family that Avonte was missing.
The lawyer also claims the teen walked passed a security guard who asked where he was going but let him leave after getting no response.
“I can’t watch it. I can’t see him run off like that and nobody’s running behind him to say, ‘Hey, kid, come back here.’ There’s no one,” said Avonte’s mother, Vanessa Fontaine.
Police mistakenly thought they found the teen Tuesday in East Harlem. They announced the news to the Oquendo family and the media, but when the family showed up at the hospital, they realized the mistake.
“I know they’re going through hours and hours of surveillance, so we’re just waiting to see if they get anything from that,” said Danny Oquendo who has been out with search volunteers. “But in the meantime, we’re just going to try what we can and search, search everywhere.”
As the weather becomes cooler in New York City, police say finding Avonte is a top priority. Avonte has an affinity for trains, according to his family, and police have been searching subway tunnels. The New York Daily News reports that police have been following up on all leads, even those from psychics.
“As every day goes by, it becomes more and more intense and we have to try and do everything we can to locate Avonte,” Capt. Thomas Conforti, commanding officer of the 112th Precinct, told DNAinfo.
Complicating the matter is that Avonte has the mental capacity of a child half his age and is unable to perform even basic communication. The family believes that someone is holding the teen.
“It’s very cold outside, I don’t think he is just walking around,” Danny said.
Police are offering a $10,000 reward for information that leads to Avonte being found. The family is also hosting a vigil Friday night outside of his Long Island City school.
“We only get a few hours of sleep every day, our mom can’t stop crying, we can’t eat,” said Danny Oquendo. “It’s very tough on our family, but we believe he is still alive.”
Avonte is described as being 5’3″ tall and weighing 125 pounds with short black hair and brown eyes. He was last seen wearing a gray striped shirt, black jeans, and black sneakers.
Anyone with information may contact the NYPD Crime Stoppers at (800) 577-TIPS. Tips can also be texted to 274637(CRIMES) then enter TIP577. Information can also be sent to the Black and Missing Foundation’s confidential Tip Line.