NEW YORK—A law to fund voluntary tracking devices for children with autism was introduced by Sen. Charles E. Schumer at a Jan. 26 press conference at his Manhattan office.
It’s called Avonte’s Law, in honor of the autistic boy, who went missing after wandering out of his school three months ago and was found dead recently. The law would allocate $10 million for the Department of Justice (DOJ) to fund police departments or qualified organizations that want to provide tracking devices for autistic children.
Schumer said he will push the law within the next few months and that it should pass without any problems, since it’s going to be modeled after DOJ’s current grant program for organizations that assist in locating missing persons with Alzheimer’s disease. The current program is successful and has bipartisan support, according to Schumer.
Fourteen-year-old Avonte Oquendo went missing after wandering out of Riverview School in Long Island City on the afternoon of Oct. 4, 2013. After a massive search effort, including multiple city agencies and scores of volunteers, his remains were found on the beach of College Point in Queens on Jan. 16, a DNA test confirmed five days later.
The mother of the boy, Vanessa Fontaine, was also present at the press conference, yet decided not to speak. On Jan. 21 she announced she would sue the city for wrongful death, stating the school should have prevented the boy from leaving.
Her lawyer, David H. Perecman, praised the senator for introducing the law, which he thinks is “making an end run around the problem,” but questioned placing autistic children in a school right next to the East River, because people with autism are known to be drawn to water.
The GPS tracking devices would cost between $80–$90 each plus “a few dollars” every month for the tracking service, Schumer said. They can be in the form of a bracelet, wallet card or sewn into clothes. Local police would operate the tracking system the same way as they do for tracking Alzheimer patients.