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Queens Chronicle

Putting together the last minutes of Avonte

Video surveillance shows how teen escaped Riverview School building

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Posted: Thursday, April 10, 2014 10:30 am | Updated: 11:28 am, Thu Apr 17, 2014.

Despite his remains having been found, there is still an air of mystery as to how Avonte Oquendo managed to escape from his class and leave the building unnoticed.

But footage obtained by the Chronicle shows that there were several instances that, had they taken place in a slightly different way, may have prevented the escape of the 14-year-old Avonte.

On Oct. 4, just past noon, Avonte and his class gathered in the cafeteria to eat lunch.

The slight boy behaved as any young teen would during lunch period: a little hyper and jumpy but otherwise normal.

His teacher asked students to throw away their garbage and corralled them into the corner so that paraprofessionals could escort the 13 students to the technology room.

That is when the trouble started.

According to the teaching assistants, the class was full of wound-up students who require a significant amount of attention.

The video surveillance shows Avonte and his class leave the cafeteria and enter into the staircase.

Thirteen students go in but only 12 come out.

Avonte had somehow gotten past the three paras as they ascended to the second floor to class.

“Working with special needs children is tough, there is no denying this,” David Perecman, attorney for Avonte’s family, said. “But if I see 13 people entering, I want to see 13 come out.”

Instead, Avonte ran downstairs, past a school safety officer once and then a second time. She didn’t stop him.

“Honestly, I think she was being lazy and, if you look at the video, there is a little girl who approaches her just as Avonte runs by her the second time to give her a hug,” Perecman said. “I think she wanted the hug. The hug is more fun.”

Perecman, who will officially file a wrongful death lawsuit in a few weeks, believes that the safety officer saw Avonte run past her but was too lazy to pursue him.

What’s more, the paraprofessionals did not appear to notice Avonte was not in the technology room.

The video shows a female teacher walking up and down the hall, coming in and out of the staircase appearing to look for someone. It is about 10 minutes after Avonte would have gotten away from the group.

But what worries Perecman is that Oct. 4 was not the first time Avonte attempted to run away.

The day before he ran out of an open door and allegedly fell off the waterfront near Gantry State Park and into the East River, Avonte had also gotten away from his class.

“What is going on that he tried to get away the day before and still there was no response?” Perecman asked hypothetically.

While Avonte is dead and the search is long over, the journey Percman and his client, Avonte’s mother Vanessa Fontaine, have been on is long from over.

Once the lawsuit is filed, he will be able to depose any employee of the Riverview School in Long Island City, including safety officer Perez, whom Avonte ran past twice.

“I am going to ask everything I can,” Pereceman said. “I have that right as an attorney to do that and I will take advantage of that right.”

But he also admitted the odds the city will allow the case to go to trial are slim. Perecman suspects the city will wait until the last minute and concede fault.

That way, none of the details to the case will be brought out. Perecman will only be responsible for obtaining compensation for Fontaine.

“With wrongful death suits, the amount of money granted to the family depends on a number of things, mostly how much the deceased had been making and how many people were dependent on that income,” the attorney said. “Avonte obviously didn’t have income. So what’s the most I can get? $1 million? Two? Three? That’s about it.”

In New York, the courts do not provide compensation for pain and suffering.

“For a mama, losing a child is the hardest thing you can go through,” Perecman said. “But when the child you lose has been your focus because of their special needs, it’s worse. And the way it happened, the way he died makes it even worse.”

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