A 6-year-old boy who had autism went missing on Saturday after running too far ahead of his father in a park, sparking a massive search operation that lasted six days and included local, state, and federal officials.
But a body believed to be the young boy, who is named Maddox Ritch, was found on Thursday, according to the FBI in Charlotte, North Carolina.
The investigation remains ongoing.
With heavy hearts we announce a body believed to be 6-year-old Maddox Ritch was found at approximately 1 p.m. off of Marietta Street/Old Dallas Highway in Gastonia. Maddox’s parents have been notified of the discovery. The investigation is ongoing.
— FBI Charlotte (@FBICharlotte) September 27, 2018
Fox News reported that Maddox had been enjoying the Rankin Lake Park, about 20 miles west of Charlotte, on Saturday when the 6-year-old, who cannot speak, sprinted ahead of his father and his father’s friend until he was out of sight.
“I was terrified,” the boy’s father, Ian Ritch, told People. “I didn’t know which direction he went, so I looked as hard as I could, I went different ways and everything.”
Ritch added: “Usually when he takes off running, he’ll slow down and stop for me to catch up with him. This time he never stopped.”
Rescuers searched for Maddox in the park and the surrounding area, including a nearby woods and marshland, for six days.
The FBI even offered a $10,000 reward for information about the missing child and searched a nearby lake with a dive team before finding him dead on Thursday morning.
Investigation not over
FBI Supervisory Agent Jason Kaplan said in a news conference on Thursday that “the investigation is not over,” and that authorities were still attempting to locate and interview any potential witnesses, including anyone who was at the park on the day the boy first disappeared.
“Where did he enter, how did he get there, what was the manner of death, what was the cause of death, was there any crime that was committed or are we simply looking at an accident?” Kaplan asked. “Those are very difficult questions to answer, but they are questions that we will answer.”
Gastonia Police Chief Robert Helton said he and his community is “heartbroken” over the loss of Maddox.
“Maddox Ritch, a beautiful young man, blond hair, blue eyes, out walking this past Saturday with his dad. Walking around the lake, looking at turtles, doing the things a young man would do,” Helton said, reportedly through tears. “This is not the end that we hoped for.”