Exhaustive search for autistic boy leads New York police to lose hope

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(CNN) — Three weeks of exhaustively scouring every corner of New York City have left police with little hope of finding a lost autistic boy alive. Yet they keep looking for the 14-year-old, who ran away from school.

Divers with sonar, sniffer dogs, scanning of video cameras, a search of the sewer system, missing posters and fliers filling the streets, subway alerts and messages in city newspapers — none of it has led officers to Avonte Oquendo.

“Obviously we have devoted a tremendous amount of resources to the search,” Commissioner Ray Kelly told CNN affiliate WABC. Police are putting the word out to their colleagues in all of the Northeast, in hopes one of them may come across him.

“Unfortunately, we are not hopeful that we’re going to find this young man alive, but we are continuing our search,” Kelly said.

Blood hounds

Avonte was last seen on surveillance video running out of Center Boulevard School in Long Island City on the afternoon of October 4. Three hours after Avonte went missing, bloodhounds traced his scent to a marshy area near his school, but then lost the trail near the water, a source close to the investigation said.

One hour after that, the bloodhounds picked up Avonte’s scent again, this time at a subway station nearby, the source said.

Avonte is fascinated by trains, his family has said. The NYPD has focused their search on rail yards, train stations, tracks and tunnels.

All 468 New York City subway stations have been searched, and aviation, harbor and canine officers have periodically helped look for Oquendo, the NYPD said.

A mother’s worries

Avonte’s mother, Vanessa Fontaine, told CNN’s “Piers Morgan Live” last week that she believes her son is still alive and that someone is probably holding him.

“My message to my son is that I love him, and we’re going to find him. You’ll come home to your family. And for anyone who has him, please be kind and to let him go,” she said.

The reward for the safe return of Avonte is at $77,500.

Police said Avonte was last seen wearing a gray striped shirt, black jeans and black sneakers. He is 5 feet, 3 inches tall and weighs 125 pounds.

Anyone with information about Avonte is asked to contact the NYPD’s Crime Stoppers Hotline at 800-577-TIPS. The public can also submit tips at the Crime Stoppers website, nypdcrimestoppers.com or can text to 274637 (CRIMES), then enter TIP577.

By Julie Cannold

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