After one of the largest searches in New York City history and the discovery of their child’s remains, Avonte Oquendo’s family and their attorney are turning to the courts for some answers.
“This should never have happened,” David Perecman, the attorney had said when Oquendo’s remains were found in College Point. “I for one am good and angry. When you look at the videotapes, at what happened, the sheer chaos that went on in that school and to think they are taking children like this every single day, telling their parents that they’re safe, when indeed they’re not.”
Avonte’s mother, Vanessa Fontaine has since filed a request to review videotapes and records leading up to her son’s disappearance. Perecman said they will be seeking $25 million in a wrongful death suit.
Perecman had filed a Freedom of Information Law request in October but the Department of Education would not release the tapes as it claimed doing so would affect the investigation.
For months, Fontaine, Perecman and the public did not have much information on Avonte’s last minutes in The Riverview School. The only evidence made available was a 16-second video that showed the 14-year-old nonverbal teenager jogging past elevators with a cut to him running down the street.
However, new footage was released on Wednesday and has confirmed some of the rumors that have circulated.
The video shows a man in a red shirt exiting the back door of the school, leaving it slightly ajar. About 30 minutes later, Avonte is seen running towards the open door that streams a strip of sunshine into the hallway. He pauses, looks around and runs out the door.
Approximately three minutes after Avonte left the building, a school security officer walks over to the door and pulls it shut.
According to Perecman, the security officer was adamant that she saw Avonte walk up the stairs.
“She said it three times, once emphatically, that she saw Avonte go up the stairs, which we know is not true,” Perecman said.
This new footage may be a game changer for Fontaine’s lawsuit but she is still asking that more information be given to her and Perecman.
“Out of 20 cameras on the first floor, I have only seen footage from five of them,” Perecman said. “I don’t know what is on the other cameras but I would like to see for myself.”
The most important factor will be whether cameras captured the security guard interacting with Avonte, telling him to go upstairs as she claimed to have done. The footage may also shed light onto how the autistic boy got away from his class and his one-on-one monitor who is supposed to be with him throughout the school day.
“I am convinced in my heart of hearts, that had a prompt reaction occurred, had some of this cascade of errors not occurred, that the police would have been called, they would have been outside, and they would have found Avonte before this happened,” the attorney said. “He would be home right now. He would be wearing his Air Jordans and they wouldn’t have been found in a river.”
Under the FOIL, Fontaine must receive a response to her request by the first week of February.