Avonte1This morning on the A train, I found myself looking at a young teenage boy with Nike sneakers and sweet eyes. Old habits die hard: I am still looking for Avonte.

On October 4, the non-verbal 14 year old with autism walked out of his special education school unsupervised. We all searched for him: far and wide and then farther and wider. We tweeted and shared and emailed and blogged, and when that wasn’t enough, we tweeted and shared and emailed and blogged all over again. We worked with police search parties and we organized community search parties. For weeks and weeks and months and months and however long it would take. And we hoped.

But hope abandoned us all. There is no shade of black dark enough to characterize how this story ended: decomposed, partially-clothed body parts at a river’s edge. No mother’s scream that is primal enough; no garbage that is rancid enough.

Things need to change. Special education schools need to properly supervise students with a history of running off. Parents of school children that go missing need to be notified right away and not 45 minutes later. New York City missing child email alerts need to be sent out immediately and not 72 hours later.

We are devastated. But we are also human and hope is resilient. We have to believe the day will come when things do change: when we take good care of our most vulnerable citizens; when we understand that different isn’t less-than; when we truly value diversity.

Nothing can return Avonte to his family, but I will think of him and picture his smile every time I advocate for Brooks. And I hope that brings his mother some small measure of comfort.