Published October 13, 2013
New York City transportation officials recently suspended overnight track maintenance and ordered at least 200 workers to hunt through train tunnels for Avonte Oquendo, an autistic teen who vanished on Oct. 4.
According to the New York Daily News, a Metropolitan Transportation Authority memo spoke to “all-out blitz to locate Avonte . . . Every portion of track within the subway shall be inspected without fail.”
The workers were expected to comb all 468 subway stations, the paper reported.
“I’ve never seen anything like it before,” Transport Workers Union Local 100 President John Samuelsen, who is a track worker, told The News. “It’s actually brilliant. No one knows the subway system like track workers.”
Avonte. 14, walked away from his school on Oct. 4, sparking a search that has grown to include more than 100 officers, helicopters, marine units and volunteers.
Avonte's father and older brother staffed a volunteer table across the street from Avonte's school in the Long Island City section of Queens, handing out fliers for New Yorkers to post around their neighborhoods.
Avonte's father, Daniel Oquendo Sr., said he's gratified by the support but added, "We need to step it up. I mean, it's seven days already."
Daniel Oquendo Jr. said the family is not getting discouraged.
"Positivity and keeping your energy at a great level is very key," he said. "He will turn up safe."
Avonte's mother, Vanessa Fontaine, has filed a notice of claim to sue New York City and the city Department of Education over the teen's disappearance.
The claim charges that the officials at Avonte's school allowed him to walk out of the building and waited too long to notify police that he was missing.
Fontaine's lawyer, David Perecman, said school officials also did not call the mother until an hour after Avonte left.
The city Law Department said Friday it hadn't received a copy of the papers yet but recognized the case involved a "distressing situation."
City Department of Education Chancellor Dennis Walcott said the schools' thoughts are with Avonte's family.
"Let's try to find the student and then we'll do the investigation on exactly what happened," he said.
Officers have followed up on more than two dozen tips so far, Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly said.
"I think we're doing everything we reasonably can do to find this young man," Kelly said.
Volunteer Donnell Nichols, an emergency medical technician, said he's been driving around looking for Avonte.
"Avonte needs us so it's our duty to be here," Nichols said. "That's what we're supposed to do as New Yorkers."
Searchers are canvassing the area around Avonte's school, not far where police boats are also taking part in the search on the East River.
Police have checked subway tunnels because Avonte's family said the boy is fascinated by the subway system. The Metropolitan Transportation Authority is also making frequent announcements to riders about the search.
A reward fund for information leading to Avonte's safe return has reached $70,000, including $50,000 from an anonymous donation to the advocacy group Autism Speaks.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.