COLLEGE POINT, Queens (PIX11) – The family of Avonte Oquendo is awaiting DNA results to see if human remains found on an East River waterfront are their son. Also, the way in which the remains were reportedly found is shocking some people as much as the find itself.
It happened around 7:30 Thursday evening. Police were called to the shoreline of Powell Cove Park, near Capstan Court in College Point, after bones from a decomposed hand were found at the location roughly a mile west of the Whitestone Bridge.
NYPD dive teams, helicopters, detectives and evidence technicians worked the scene all night Thursday and remained on scene overnight Friday. Details of what they discovered point to one thing, according to the attorney for the family of Avonte Oquendo.
“It’s a size 5 1/2 Nike Jordan sneakers,” said lawyer David Perecman about some of what was discovered, “and a size 16 jeans, which are both what Avonte was wearing on the day he left, which are troubling things to hear.”
Avonte, 14, has a severe form of autism. On October 4th, he walked out, during the middle of the day, unmonitored, from his school for special needs students, near the waterfront of Long Island City. It’s 11 miles southwest of the site where the remains were found.
After his disappearance, a search involving hundreds of police officers and hundreds more volunteers took place for weeks. A reputed fascination with trains by the teen led to the MTA posting Avonte’s photograph throughout the subway and commuter rail system, and led to transit workers making frequent announcements in stations and on trains seeking information. Avonte’s poster remains on display at subway token booths system wide.
However, the lawyer for the missing teen’s family clarified one thing about Avonte, even as hopes for him being recovered alive continued to fade. “There is no fascination with water or trains,” said Perecman, referring also to what he called erroneous reports that his client had an intense interest in water, as well as trains.
Even though some of the focus of the search over the 100-plus days of him being missing looked closely at both water and trains, the special needs student was fascinated with neither.
Avonte’s mother, Vanessa Fontaine, has spoken many times with PIX11 News, but as of Friday evening, she had only made statements through her attorney, with whom she’d spoken for the first time about the remains at 2:00 A.M. Friday, when she was first told that the find might be what’s left of her son.
“She said, ‘It’s not Avonte until it’s Avonte,'” Perecman said at a news conference near the crime scene. “I see frustration on her part… anger on her part” about Avonte being missing for so long.
PIX11 News has learned from law enforcement sources that a woman in her late teens, Natasha Shapiro, who lives three blocks from where the remains were found, discovered them while she was out walking Thursday.
Law enforcement sources also told PIX11 News that Shapiro took a photo of the remains and posted it on social media before calling police. She confirmed to reporters outside of her home Friday afternoon that she had called police, but denied that she had posted photos of what she’d seen. Friday night, a police cruiser was posted outside of her home, and crime scene tape had been strung around it.
The remains and other evidence that were found at the scene where she first discovered some human bones yielded a grisly list of items as Friday wore on.
“I’ve heard one arm, I’ve heard legs, pants, underwear, and sneakers,” said Perecman. Also, according to law enforcement sources, a torso was discovered, as well as remnants of a striped shirt Avonte was wearing when he went missing. The shirt was a signature item that volunteers and police were told to search for.
The fact that, after three months, the remains were not intact was a source of speculation, as the family’s attorney pointed out. “Whether the limbs that are there have gone thru some natural process [of dismemberment], or if he went through trauma, we don’t know,” said Perecman. “And even if he did, there’s no telling what happened. He could’ve been hit by something in the water.”
Perecman said that both Avonte’s mother and father had provided DNA samples to the medical examiner’s office. If their DNA matches that of the remains, it will prove that its the remnants of their son’s body.
Results from the DNA testing could take days or weeks to be produced, Perecman said, although he also said he’d been assured by police that this case would be a high priority for DNA screening.