Avonte Oquendo's remains identified
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When Vanessa Oquendo received word Tuesday that remains found by the East River were those of her son, grief set in as she phoned her attorney.
"It's Avonte! It's Avonte!" she wailed into the phone -- between the sobs, attorney David Perecman recalled.
She called him minutes after NYPD detectives told her that human remains found last week along the shoreline of the East River in Queens had been identified by the New York City medical examiner as those of her autistic 14-year-old son, Avonte Oquendo, missing since walking out of his Queens school unaccompanied in October.
The remains were discovered Thursday evening in the College Point section by a young girl who had gone to the shoreline to take photographs, the NYPD said. Initially recovered were a left arm and a torso from the waist down, including legs, police said. A subsequent search recovered additional remains.
Oquendo, of Rego Park, was last seen on video surveillance footage leaving the Center Boulevard School on 51st Avenue in Long Island City on Oct. 4.
While Vanessa Oquendo and others in her family held out hope that Avonte was still alive, it became apparent from clothing recovered with the remains that the discovery might be her missing son, Perecman said Tuesday. Old Navy jeans and a shirt found on the remains could have been the same as those worn by the teen when he went missing, he said.
A spokeswoman for the medical examiner's office said confirmation of the identity of Avonte's remains came from DNA tests. Determination of the cause of death was pending further tests, spokeswoman Julie Bolger said.
To aid investigators, Perecman said, Avonte's mother gave officials the boy's toothbrush, a copy of his birth certificate footprint and a sample of her own DNA.
At a news conference Tuesday, Perecman described Avonte's family as being inconsolable.
"She broke down, just crying, crying, crying," Perecman said of Vanessa Oquendo, who wasn't present at the news conference.
But aside from dealing with grief, the family plans to move forward with a lawsuit, which Perecman said he intends to file against the city Department of Education over Avonte's death and the negligent supervision the attorney claims he received at the school.
New school chancellor Carmen Fariña said in a statement she was heartbroken. "Let Avonte remind us how important it is that we continue to look out for one another," she said.
Former city medical examiner Dr. Michael Baden said that the separated state of Avonte's remains indicated to him that the body went through natural decomposition in the water and not dismemberment.
"Whether he was pushed in or jumped in himself, you can't tell from an autopsy," Baden said.
With Maria Alvarez
and Emily Ngo