NBC 4 New York
Details of an internal Department of Education report on autistic 14-year-old Avonte Oquendo's disappearance from his school in October were released by the family lawyer. The report suggests several oversights and the boy's family is now demanding answers. Pei-Sze Cheng reports.
School security and administrators' immediate response to the disappearance of Avonte Oquendo from his Queens school on Oct. 4 appeared to be disorganized and confused, the boy's family's lawyer says, citing documents from an internal investigation by the Department of Education.
Avonte Oquendo's family attorney David Perecman said he obtained an occurrence report from the DOE detailing the timeline of Oquendo's disappearance from Center Boulevard School, compiled during the internal investigation.
According to the documents, 14-year-old Oquendo, who is non-verbal and autistic, had three adults watching his class on Oct. 4. The class was on its way to the computer lab when Oquendo slipped away.
Security cameras showed Avonte walking to the first floor at 12:37 p.m., the documents say. The boy walked by the main security desk twice before leaving the building through the Center Boulevard exit door, which had been left ajar.
At 12:41 p.m., a school safety agent went to the same exit and closed the door shut.
Oquendo's teachers noticed he was missing at 12:40 p.m., and at 12:56 p.m., they notified the assistant principal, according to the documents. When the assistant principal asked the safety agent to sweep the outside perimeter of the school, the safety agent told her that she did not see Oquendo walk out back, and that she saw him "run up the stairs."
The safety agent's statement would be contradicted by security video that captured Oquendo leaving the school.
Oquendo's mother Vanessa Fontaine, who has been leading search efforts to find her son for nearly four months, was devastated by the new information.
If the school safety agent "would have just got up and went outside and ran after him instead of closing the door and acting like nothing happened, my son would be here with me, not lost out in the street somewhere," she said.
Attorney Perecman said the documents showed other issues that hampered the search for the boy: administrators did not have passwords to security cameras, so they could not review the footage and ascertain the fact that Oquendo had left the building until two hours after he first went missing.
And although the assistant principal requested that the school be put on a "soft lockdown" right after she learned about Oquendo's disappearance, her request was denied so as not to "upset the other students," the documents state.
A full lockdown was not ordered until 2 p.m., a full hour and a half after Avonte slipped out of the school.
The Department of Education said in a statement that “the case is currently under investigation by the Office of the Special Commissioner of Investigation. All School Security Agents are employed and trained by the New York City Police Department.
"Separate from the investigation, the Chancellor has expressed a determination that the Department learn every lesson possible from this terrible situation, and do everything in its power to prevent incidents like this from ever occurring again."
The NYPD declined to comment, as they have not been able to review the Department of Education's occurrence report.
Oquendo's family filed a notice of claim in October, but they have not given up hope that they might find him alive. They have moved their base of operations from Long Island City to Astoria, where they are coordinating search efforts.
"I can't sit home and not do anything, that's my child," she said. "I know he expects his mother and his family to look for him, that's what we're going to do."