Family, Friends Gather for Funeral of Avonte Oquendo

About 200 mourners gathered at the funeral, which was held Saturday morning in the West Village

By Jake Pearson
|  Sunday, Jan 26, 2014  |  Updated 11:03 AM EDT
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Friends and family gathered at the funeral for Avonte Oquendo, a 14-year-old autistic boy who was last seen alive running out of his school. Sheldon Dutes reports.

Friends and family gathered at the funeral for Avonte Oquendo, a 14-year-old autistic boy who was last seen alive running out of his school. Sheldon Dutes reports.

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Friends and family gathered to bid a final farewell to Avonte Oquendo, the 14-year-old autistic boy who was last seen alive running out of his school.

Avonte disappeared from his Queens school in October and his body was found along the East River last week.

About 200 mourners gathered at the funeral, which was held Saturday morning in the West Village.

The former Roman Catholic archbishop of New York, Cardinal Edward Egan, presided over the ceremony at the Church of Saint Joseph as 14-year-old Avonte Oquendo's parents and brothers sat stoically in a front pew, next to a white casket holding the remains pulled from the East River last week.
 
"This morning we are grateful to God for Avonte Oquendo, for his life, for his courage, and for the acts of goodness and kindness that his life and his tragic disappearance evoked among us," Egan said. "We know that he is safely in the embrace of the father in heaven and we thank that father in heaven for the years we had with him in our midst."
 
Oquendo, who had a form of autism that made him nonverbal, had been missing since Oct. 4, when he walked out of his school toward a park overlooking the river. His remains were found about 11 miles from where he vanished after a massive citywide search that included extensive searches of subway tunnels and regular announcements over the PA system at subway stations.
 
Many of the volunteers who handed out flyers with his picture on them and helped the search effort arrived at the church Saturday to pay their respects.

A funeral home covered the costs of the funeral and a family-only wake beforehand, where about a hundred relatives sat together in a room full of white flowers watching a slideshow of the teen's photos.
 
"Nobody really wanted to speak," said Roberto Colon, 49, whose wife's cousin is Avonte's mother. "We couldn't fathom what to say."

Investigators are still trying to determine how Avonte died and further tests are needed to determine the cause and manner of death, officials have said.
 
The family's lawyer, David Perecman, filed a notice of claim in October, the first step in suing the city, and has publically 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.

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