NEW YORK (AP) — Human remains found along the East River last week are the body of an autistic teen who vanished more than three months ago after walking out of his school in the middle of the day, the city's medical examiner confirmed Tuesday.
The announcement, widely expected for days, devastated the family of Avonte Oquendo, who was 14 and had a form of autism that made it impossible for him to speak.
Avonte's mother, Vanessa Fontaine, was inconsolable, said her lawyer, David Perecman.
"She finally just broke down," he said of his phone call to her Tuesday morning. He said it was the first time except for brief moments that he'd seen her cry that much.
"Now that the inevitable, unfortunately, has occurred, undoubtedly she'll go through a metamorphosis of a sort, and I'm sure she'll get good and angry," he said. Perecman said the family intends to file a wrongful death lawsuit against the city, alleging that school officials failed to monitor the boy or call the police quickly enough when he left the school.
"There were so many things that went wrong, it befuddles the mind," he said.
The discovery of Avonte's partly decomposed body on the riverbank, more than 11 miles from where he vanished, was a sad end to a massive citywide search that included hundreds of officers, marine units and volunteers. Missing person posters were plastered on lampposts and placed on car windshields throughout the city. Announcements were made for weeks on city subways, imploring people to contact the police if they had information.
The medical examiner's office used DNA tests to identify the remains discovered Thursday. Further study was needed to determine the cause and manner of death, the office said.
Perecman said it will take more investigation to determine whether any play might have been involved, given the state of the body, or whether it was a case of natural decomposition.
Avonte had been missing since Oct. 4, when he walked out of his school toward a park overlooking the river.