My thoughts on the Avonte Oquendo case

As someone living in England, I had not heard of the case involving Avonte Oquendo until a friend of mine suggested that it might be a good idea to read up on it and write a blog post about my thoughts on the case.

For those of you who have not heard of the tragic case, Avonte Oquendo was a fourteen year old boy with severe autism who was not capable of communicating with speech. Some articles concerning the case are linked below.

There are many articles on the Internet concerning Avonte’s disappearance from different news sources (I chose four but there are plenty more) but what they all appear to agree on is that Avonte’s disappearance was primarily down to a lack of supervision from staff at the special needs school he attended. In various articles I read that Avonte was known to have a history of wandering during transition times.This is significant because he disappeared after lunchtime while transitioning to his classroom. CCTV images accessible on the web show him walking out of the school unsupervised with not a staff member in sight. Avonte’s body was found three months after he went missing that fateful day on October the 4th 2013. He had been washed up by a river. Nobody knows the truth of what happened to Avonte that day-I have read that some of his relatives suspect foul play as he was found in underwear that was not his and he was believed by police to have drowned yet, according to his family, he feared water and would not have been near a river voluntarily.

Whichever way Avonte lived his last hours or days, his death is a huge tragedy and what makes it even more tragic is that it could have been so easily avoided. As somebody who works with children and teenagers with complex needs just like Avonte, I know that he should have been staffed on a one to one basis, especially during periods of the day that were known to be difficult for him. If a member of staff had been there to support the transition to his next session, there would not have been the opportunity for him to wander out of school. News reports (I will edit this to give links tomorrow as I am writing this on my phone) state that Avonte’s mother was not contacted by the school until an hour after Avonte went missing. Neither were the police. Aside from the whole neglect issue of failing to inform the most important person in a child’s life that their child has gone missing as soon as they knew that this was the case, the delay also meant that a highly vulnerable teenager with severe autism and associated communication problems was left to wander unsupervised in New York, one of the busiest, most crowded cities in the world. Scary enough for your average teenager, it must have been terrifying for Avonte. Despite extensive searches by the police and concerned members of the public, including his family, Avonte was not found until January.

In my opinion, so much more could have been done to prevent this tragedy.  If one to one staffing was not enough to keep Avonte safe, he should have had two to one staffing. Why were the doors not secured during the school day? Why was there an unacceptable delay in informing the authorities that a vulnerable person had gone missing? Nothing can bring Avonte back but it is clear that lessons need to be learned fast. To someone who works in the same area (not geographically but with students with needs similar to Avonte’s), the failings in this case are unacceptable. To lose a child who should be monitored vigilantly throughout the school day is shocking. I actually genuinely can’t get my head around what happened that day. I know, of course, that there are two sides to every story but the fact remains that Avonte should have been monitored at the time he went missing in order to keep him safe.

I don’t feel that this post does justice to the whole case-I will post up some links when I am on my laptop but I would ask people to look the case up for themselves-it is a lot more complex than I can give credit to in a blog post. What matters most is that a fourteen year old boy with complex needs has tragically died. I would like to express my deepest sympathies to the Oquendo family. Avonte sounds like he was one of life’s characters. Rest in peace Avonte.


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