The disappearance of 14-year-old Avonte Oquendo is hitting close to home for members of the autistic community, who have been especially involved in the search for the boy, now missing 12 days.
"When you have an individual who can't speak and communicate for himself, that touches the heart," said Julius Cannon, one of the volunteers searching for Avonte.
Cannon is among the numerous New Yorkers donating their time each day to help look for the mute autistic boy, who was last seen running away from his Long Island City school. Cannon has worked closely with autistic children and says people in the special needs community, especially those touched by autism, are committed to helping one another.
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"I've been a part of this special community for years -- 15 years, to be exact," he said. "These kids, whether I work with them, they're just a part of the family."
Trudging through the brush to search tunnels, Wesley Miller of Astoria has been searching for Avonte since he went missing.
"When I heard about this kid and found out he was autistic, that really burned me up. I had to do something," he said.
While Avonte's family told NBC 4 New York Monday they feared foul play, they sounded optimistic on Tuesday.
"Our hopes are extremely high," said a relative.
Police Chief Phillip Banks said Avonte's disappearance has hit a personal note with investigators.
"We started out the meeting, 'OK, if this was our son, what would we be doing differently?'" he said. "We went around the table and spent the first few minutes speaking about that."
At the volunteers headquarters across the street from Avonte's school in Long Island City, police and volunteers were lined up shoulder to shoulder Tuesday as they focused on their singular mission.
"Everybody is rooting for this effort to bring this young man home," said Banks.