The press has slowed and the city’s search parties have been scaled back, but the hunt for Avonte Oquendo continues.
Vanessa Fontaine, Avonte’s mother, has gone from her home in Rego Park to a tent in Long Island City to an official Help Find Avonte headquarters in the two months since her son bolted from his school and into the street.
“He’s still out there and we just needed a place where the volunteers can come in and do the fliers, pass them out and where I can get everything set up for when they come in,” she said.
The office is modest, no larger than a small apartment, with cream-colored walls covered with pictures of Avonte’s face. Though the pictures show the skinny 14-year-old smiling and happy, each poster acts as a haunting reminder of the mute autistic child who disappeared into the crisp autumn afternoon.
The pain parents must feel when their child is missing cannot be easily seen on Fontaine’s face. She maintains her composure and, like an athlete preparing for a big game, she keeps her eyes on the prize.
“I never struggle to stay positive,” she said, sipping from a Styrofoam cup filled with coffee from the Keurig machine she set up for the volunteers. “I can never think anything negative when it comes to my son. I just keep thinking that he’s still around, that someone has him and that he will be found.”
Whether Avonte is alive is not a question Fontaine entertains. She said she is absolutely confident that he is alive.
“My gut feeling is that someone took him,” she said. “On the street, there are no cameras around and he’s just walking alone.”
Fontaine is not alone in her search. Countless volunteers still show up every week to hang fliers and go on searches across the city, but it is her sons who appear to be her most loyal seekers.
Anthony and Andrew, two of her four sons, work with their mother throughout the day, hauling boxes, fixing the office up and folding fliers.
Her stepson, Jason, has been active on social media and Instagram, posting frequently about Avonte.
There is a sense of determination in the air as boxes and boxes of envelopes and fliers are laid on top of one another to be mailed out around the city.
With Christmas coming up, Fontaine says her one wish is to have Avonte home for the holidays.
“If I could have one gift, that would be it,” she said. “We’re going to keep Christmas normal and hopefully he’ll be home by then and we’ll do what we do as one big happy family.”
On Dec. 9, just after the headquarters opened, a Facebook page and PayPal account was started under the Official Help Find Avonte name.
“The Facebook page is to keep people in the loop and send out information in a quick way, and the PayPal is to help pay for some of the expenses we accumulate here,” Fontaine said.
Expenses including staples, paper clips, envelopes, paper and rent add up quickly and the family has relied on the help of friends and strangers alike to help them out.
“They’re small things but they add up quickly,” Fontaine said.
She added that the account has done well and as of Wednesday, just over a week after it started, the Facebook page has accumulated more than 3,000 likes.
“It’s nice to know that so many people have identified with us and have helped us out,” Fontaine said.
If you would like to donate to the Help Find Avonte headquarters, you can do so by visiting the Facebook page at facebook.com/official-help-find-Avonte. The headquarters, at 21-81A 24 St. in Astoria, is also accepting donations of office supplies, coffee and hot chocolate for volunteers and other essentials.
“If I could say one thing to him I’d say that I love him, I will never stop looking for him and that he is coming home soon,” Fontaine said.