Probe: Errors Let Autistic Boy Slip From Queens School

NEW YORK (AP) -

A tragic confluence of errors including a school safety agent being distracted by a hug and a principal refusing to order a lockdown led to an autistic boy’s disappearance from his school and his death, an investigator said Thursday.

A door left open by an unknown visitor at the Queens school and a teacher’s failure to pass on a warning by 14-year-old Avonte Oquendo’s mother that he might wander also contributed to his death last October.

Avonte’s mother, Vanessa Fontaine, said she was outraged that the form she gave her son’s teacher saying he might run away was ignored. “You fill that out assuming that she’s asking this question because she wants the information to share with other teachers to help your child out,” Fontaine said. “Someone has to pay for this mistake.”

Avonte, who couldn’t speak, attended a special-ed school that shares a building with two other schools. His Oct. 4 disappearance led to a massive search, but his remains were found in the nearby East River in January.

The report described how Avonte broke away from his classmates after lunch. School safety agent Bernadette Perez said she saw a boy in the lobby but did not know he was a special-needs student. Perez said she called out twice, “Excuse me!” but the boy did not respond. She said she could not chase him because she could not leave the front desk unstaffed.

An assistant principal for his school requested a soft lockdown to facilitate a search. But the principal of another high school in the building refused for fear of alarming students, investigators said.

A video showed a man leaving through a side door, not closing the door behind him, and half an hour later Avonte walking out through it. No one has been able to identify the man.