COLLEGE POINT, Queens (PIX11) — Body parts that were discovered along the shore of College Point, Queens, Thursday night could belong to Avonte Oquendo, the missing boy with autism whose disappearance in October prompted a city-wide search and considerable public concern.
At 7:16 p.m. Thursday, near Powell Cove Boulevard and Endeavor Place, an arm was discovered by a teenager named Natasha Shapiro, who took a picture of the body part and showed it to her mother back home, who then called police.
A law enforcement source told PIX11 that Shapiro also posted the photo on social media before calling authorities, something Shapiro denies.
With helicopters flying overhead, a swarm of NYPD dive teams, detectives and evidence technicians combed the site Thursday night, turning up two legs and a torso.
The feet had a pair of size 5 1/2 Nike Air Jordans. Those are the kind of shoes Oquendo was wearing when he disappeared from his school in Long Island City on Oct. 4. The park where the body parts washed up is 11 miles from Oquendo’s school.
The Oquendo’s family attorney, David Perecman, said the partial remains also contained underwear and size 16 jeans. The jeans, though degraded, were found to be the same size that Avonte wore.
“That’s a troubling thing to hear,” Perecman said at a news conference Friday morning.
Perecman has been speaking with the family all night about the discovery and says his Avonte’s mother, Vanessa Fontaine, is skeptical.
“I don’t think we can assume anything from the fact that the body is not in one piece,” Perecman said Friday morning, answering questions about why the corpse was found in parts.
Police said the body parts were taken to the Queens County Morgue and the medical examiner will determine the cause of death. The body has been in the water long enough that you can’t identify the skin color, Perecman said.
Whether the limbs had been naturally severed, or if he went through trauma, is still unknown.
Police waders are searching the water with dogs sniffing the terrain along the shore as part of a concerted effort to turn up the rest of the body.
Oquendo’s mother, who has hoped that her son was being held by a kidnapper, has been notified and will be taken to the medical examiner’s office later today to examine clothing found on the body parts, police told PIX11 News.
“This has been an unimaginably grim and horrific time for her and her family,” said Perecman.
Perecman said Avonte is afraid of water, and it would have been unlikely for him to climb the fence toward the water near his school.
The family will wait for DNA test results and police have the teen’s father’s DNA on file. Avonte’s mother is submitting her DNA today.
Police say it may take several days to determine an identification and cause of death.
Avonte’s family has filed a notice of claim saying they planned to sue the city. The family claims that officials at the school allowed him to walk out and waited too long to notify police that he was missing.
“If this is Avonte, as his lawyer I know what happened in the end. If we never find him, we never know what happened to him,” Perecman said.
Avonte’s mom told Perecman she will not be convinced until she has proof her son is dead. “It’s not Avonte until it’s Avonte,” she said.
This is a developing story; check back for updates