Mother of missing Gastonia boy: ‘I just want my baby home’
As law enforcement expands the search for a missing 6-year-old Gastonia boy with autism, the boy’s mother tearfully pleaded Tuesday for people who might have some information about his disappearance to come forward.
“Please, urgently, please call the tip line,” Carrie Ritch said during a Tuesday afternoon news conference. “Continue praying for him because I just want my baby home.”
Maddox Ritch was with his father, Ian Ritch, at Rankin Lake Park on Saturday when he ran ahead and vanished, police said.
Maddox doesn’t speak, making his disappearance even more complex.
“Maddox is my whole world and my reason for living,” Ritch said. “His smile is so contagious, and his laughter is so precious.”
Ian Ritch retraced his steps in the park with investigators on Tuesday.
Gastonia Fire Chief Phil Welch said the 250-acre park has been searched several times on foot with tracking dogs. Helicopters, drones, all-terrain vehicles and boats with sonar and dive teams also have been used in the search, he said.
Authorities also have drained some of the water from the lake to assist in the search, Welch said.
FBI supervisory special agent Jason Kaplan said the county landfill and other areas in Gastonia have been searched for clues to the boy’s disappearance.
Gastonia Police Chief Robert Helton said investigators have interviewed 260 people so far and followed up on 150 leads. They are also reviewing video from nearby security cameras.
“Hundreds of people were in the park Saturday, and we feel sure more people noticed Maddox than the ones we have talked to,” Helton said, citing a professional photographer who was seen taking photos of three young children dressed as Dr. Seuss characters and a man seen jogging nearby.
“It’s so important for folks to call us and let us know what they saw that day,” Helton said.
Police have recorded messages from his parents for searchers to play on their cellphones while they look.
Maddox is described as white, with blonde hair and green eyes. He stands 4 feet tall and weighs about 45 pounds. He was last seen wearing black shorts and an orange shirt reading “I am the man.”
The FBI is offering a $10,000 reward for information in his disappearance.
Anyone with information about Maddox can call authorities at 704-869-1075.