Parents, health care professionals, and friends who are connected to life with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) are getting involved in a frantic search to find 14-year-old Avonte Oquendo, an autistic New York City boy who has been missing for 13 days. More from NBC New York:
"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.
"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."