A month after the city's medical examiner ruled that the cause and manner of Avonte Oquendo's death could not be determined, the autistic boy's brother says his family is still haunted by the uncertainty of what happened to him in his last hours.
"Picture in your mind having a loved one who does not possess the ability to communicate effectively. Now imagine this loved one lost in the biggest city in the world, alone, cold, hungry, afraid or worse," Oquendo wrote.
"How you’re feeling right now is just a fraction of the pain we endured for the months following Avonte’s disappearance. Not knowing whether we would see our beloved Avonte again ate away our souls," he said.
Avonte's remains were recovered from the East River near College Point in Queens in January.
Oquendo said his family thinks that after Avonte ran out of his Long Island City school, "in his frightened and panic state, he possibly jumped into the water and drowned."
Oquendo said he's determined to never let another family experience the same tragedy.
"While we may never know what exactly happened to my younger brother, what we can do is help to avoid this tragic event from happening again," he wrote. "The waves created by this catastrophic incident will ripple through time forcing immediate change to the current security standards of schools across the country, starting with the ones here in New York."
Oquendo says he believes change is possible because he witnessed just how quickly and tightly New Yorkers banded together in their mission to find Avonte, calling it "one of the most inspiring events to ever occur in my lifetime."
"The community came together for a common cause in such an unparalleled way that it renewed my faith in the kindness of humanity. The people of New York responded to our anguish with a tremendous amount of support and vigilance," said Oquendo.
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"What was even more inspiring was that every volunteer I had the opportunity of meeting acted as if Avonte was their own flesh and blood. It turns out that before it was all said and done Avonte did indeed become the beloved son of the city. His story touched everyone’s heart and everyone wanted to ensure that he was found safe and sound."
Oquendo believes Avonte's death "could have been avoided if the school system had only ensured that schools were better equipped to handle children with autism."
Oquendo said he hopes tragedy spurs momentum to fund schools for proper training and better security.
He added: "Finally, let this be a reminder that at the end of the day, as tough as New Yorkers are, we can come together as one to achieve common goals that are in the best interest of our children, our loved ones, and our city."
Oquendo concludes in his post: "On behalf of my family, I would like to thank all the searchers, marchers and everyone who held us in their thoughts for the love and support you have displayed during these extremely rough times. God bless you."
Oquendo's family's attorney filed a notice of claim in October, the first step in suing the city, and has publicly listed a number of mistakes he alleges contributed to the boy's disappearance and what he has described as a flawed search effort.
The city's law department has called the boy's death a tragedy and said its attorneys will review a lawsuit when it's filed.