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Police Find Body Believed To Be Maddox Ritch, Missing North Carolina Boy With Autism

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Update: On Oct. 1, the Gastonia Police department confirmed that the body investigators found on Thursday was Maddox Ritch. Autopsy results are still pending and an investigation is ongoing. 

According to a tweet from the FBI in Charlotte, N.C., authorities believe they have found the body of Maddox Ritch. Maddox, a 6-year-old boy with non-verbal autism, was first reported missing on Saturday from Rankin Lake Park park in North Carolina. He was with his father, Ian Ritch, and Ian’s adult friend at the time.

Ian said he allowed Maddox to run 25 to 30 feet ahead in view, according to CNN. Maddox then sprinted off before Ian could catch up and disappeared. “I was terrified. I didn’t know which direction he went, so I looked as hard as I could, I went different ways and everything,” Ian told People. “I tried to find him. I don’t know where he went. Usually when he takes off running, he’ll slow down and stop for me to catch up with him. This time he never stopped.”

Ian and his unidentified friend, along with park authorities, searched for Maddox but could not locate him. The part-time park employee who reported Maddox missing told the 911 operator he hadn’t seen Maddox and doubted he was ever in the park, but authorities believe Ian and Maddox were in the park that day. The FBI and local police launched an investigation, combing the park, viewing local security footage, bringing in search dogs and interviewing potential witnesses. They also offered a $10,000 reward for any information that would help locate Maddox.

On Thursday, following a six-day search, officials found the body of a boy in a creek about a mile away from the park in North Carolina where Maddox went missing. Though the identity has yet to be confirmed by the medical examiner’s office, the police believe it is Maddox. “Our community’s heartbroken,” said Gastonia Police Chief Robert Helton. “This is not the end that we had hoped for.”

The FBI will continue to investigate to determine the cause of death and if a crime has been committed. Authorities are still seeking information, including two potential witnesses who were at the park when Maddox disappeared. They’re looking for an “unidentified male jogger” and “a professional photographer whom witnesses saw taking photos of other children dressed in Dr. Seuss costumes.” Hundreds of other people were at the park when Maddox disappeared including boys of similar description.

Elopement is common among children on the autism spectrum. A 2012 report found that 26 percent of children on the spectrum had been missing long enough to cause concern at least once. CNN reported that rescuers looking for missing autistic children will get to know their favorite sounds and music to aid their search. In Maddox’s case, police used prerecorded messages of his parents’ voices in hopes he would be found.

Header image via City of Gastonia Government’s Facebook page.

Originally published: September 27, 2018
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