The older brother of Avonte Oquendo, the 14-year-old autistic boy whose body remains were found back in January after wandering from school, penned a message of gratitude to New Yorkers who helped in the search to find him.
Describing the public’s efforts as “one of the most inspiring events to ever occur” in his life, Danny Oquendo took to the written form (through the organization Autism Speaks) to express his feelings on the tragic occurrence that took quite a toll on his family, but more touchingly to thank New Yorkers, who traditionally get a bad rap:
New Yorkers are labeled as rude, impatient, aggressive, and unsympathetic. I’m writing to tell you that this reputation the rest of the world assumes is far from the truth. Although the daily New York experience may feel like one of isolation amongst crowds, any true New Yorker will tell you that when it matters most, this city comes together in larger numbers than any other community on the planet as proven after the tragedy of 9/11. This tendency for New Yorkers to come together also held true during the city-wide search for my younger brother, Avonte Oquendo.
Let this be a reminder that at the end of the day, as tough as New Yorkers are, we can come together as one to achieve common goals that are in the best interest of our children, our loved ones, and our city…
On behalf of my family, I would like to thank all the searchers, marchers and everyone who held us in their thoughts for the love and support you have displayed during these extremely rough times. God bless you.
Avonte, who was nonverbal, went missing from his Queens school in October after running out of a back exit door, which was later caught on a surveillance video. In the letter, Danny also touched on that moment, which many argued could have been prevented had school security paid closer attention.
“The guard claims to have told him to stop, unaware that Avonte did not have the ability to communicate verbally. On any other day it might have been safe to assume this was just an unruly teen attempting to play hooky from school. This turned out to be an assumption that will haunt my family for decades to come,” Danny wrote.
Danny also expressed hope that Avonte's death would "not be in vain" and urged schools to provide proper security staffing to ensure it does not happen again.