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‘Not the end we hoped for’: Authorities find body of missing Gastonia 6-year-old

September 28, 2018

Maddox Ritch

Authorities said a body believed to be that of a missing 6-year-old Gastonia boy was found Thursday afternoon following an extensive search.

Maddox Ritch was with his father, Ian Ritch, and another adult at Rankin Lake Park on Saturday when he ran ahead and vanished, police said.

Crews discovered the body partially underwater at about 1 p.m. off Marietta Street/Old Dallas Highway, a little over one mile outside of the park, authorities said.

During a news conference on Thursday afternoon, Gastonia Fire Chief Phil Welch said the area where the body was found had been searched numerous times by drone, ATV and foot patrol.

“There is not a sense of accomplishment here today. There is grieving,” Welch said.

Maddox’s parents have been notified of the discovery by law enforcement.

During a news conference on Wednesday, Ian Ritch said that Maddox initially took off a little ways ahead, maybe “25 to 30 feet” before he went into a “major sprint.”

“I started worrying once I could not see him anyone,” Ritch said.

Ritch said he felt guilty for letting his son get so far ahead of him, but said Maddox loves to run.

“It’s torture. I just want my little boy back home. I want to give him a big hug as soon as I see him,” Ritch said.

Ritch, who has diabetes, said he has some trouble running but took off after his son.

“He looked back at me and laughed like he normally does ... he slowed down a little then he paced himself back up,” he said.

Carrie Ritch, Maddox’s mother, gave a brief statement during a news conference on Tuesday.

“Maddox is my whole world and my reason for living,” Carrie Ritch said. “His smile is so contagious, and his laughter is so precious.”

Authorities said everyone in Maddox’s family was cooperating with the investigation, but that a lot of unanswered questions remain.

“It is too early to suspect foul play,” FBI Supervisor Jason Kaplan said.

Kaplan said they still want to know where Maddox entered the water, but he would not say if there was trauma to his body, or if he was wearing the clothes he was last seen in.

Maddox was autistic and nonverbal, which made the search for him even more difficult, authorities said.

The FBI is offering a $10,000 reward for information in his disappearance.

Authorities are urging anyone who was at the park to call 704-869-1075.

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