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Authorities: Body Of Missing Boy Maddox Ritch Found

Updated: 5 p.m. Thursday

Following an emotional five-day search, authorities have discovered the body of Maddox Ritch — an autistic 6-year-old boy who went missing from Gastonia last weekend.

Maddox Ritch

“Our community is heartbroken — our searchers, our investigators. This is not the end we’d hoped for,” said a visibly-shaken Gastonia Police Chief Robert Helton in a news conference Thursday afternoon.

The body was found Thursday afternoon partially submerged in Long Creek off of Old Dallas Road, roughly a mile away from Rankin Lake Park — where Maddox had first been reported missing Saturday. Law enforcement said the boy’s parents have been notified of the discovery and the medical examiner’s office has begun working to confirm the body’s identification.

Ian Ritch, Maddox’s father, told reporters this week he had been visiting Rankin Lake Park Saturday with his son and an adult friend. As the three were walking around the lake, a jogger passed by and the child began running.

Maddox, who is autistic and nonverbal, enjoyed running, Ritch said. He allowed Maddox to run ahead about 20 to 30 feet.

Then Maddox began sprinting. Ritch said he passed everything in his pockets to his friend and took off after his son. Ritch told reporters he was unable to catch up to Maddox because of diabetic neuropathy in his feet.

Roughly an hour later — around 2:30 p.m. — a park employee called 911 to report the missing child, triggering the days-long search.

Police said the investigation into the child’s disappearance and his death will continue. Police are hoping to retrace the creek bed to find out where Maddox may have entered the water, and how long he had been there. Police were unsure whether the boy walked to the creek, or perhaps was swept there by heavy rains Wednesday night.

Officials said Rankin Lake Park will remain closed for the foreseeable future.

Updated: 1 p.m. Thursday

Authorities say they have discovered the body of a missing autistic boy.

Maddox Ritch, 6, went missing in Gastonia Saturday. His body was found off Marietta Street near Old Dallas Highway in Gastonia, according to the FBI field office in Charlotte and the Gastonia Police Department. The boy’s parents have been notified of the discovery.

Officials said the investigation is ongoing.

Updated: Wednesday

Hundreds of people have mobilized in Gastonia in the search for an autistic six-year-old boy who went missing on Saturday. The search has involved helicopters, drones, search dogs, and underwater teams, all scouring well over 1,000 acres of land and water in Gaston County, but as of Wednesday, authorities appeared no closer to finding young Maddox Ritch then when they began.

Ian Ritch, the father, told reporters he had taken Maddox and an adult friend of his to Rankin Lake Park on Saturday, September 22. It was the first time he had visited the park, he said, and as they were walking along the lake, the child began to run as a jogger passed by.

Maddox, who is autistic and non-verbal, liked to run, Ritch said. So he let him run ahead about 20 to 30 feet.

Then, Maddox broke into a sprint.

Ritch said he passed everything in his pockets off to his friend and took off running after Maddox, but having diabetic nueropathy in his feet, he was unable to catch up. When he reached the parking lot and Maddox still was not in sight, he began to panic.

An hour of searching later - around 2:30 p.m. - a park employee called 911 to report the missing child. In the call, he told dispatchers that the child had last been seen near a pier on the lake, of which there are two.

Since then, local law enforcement and the Federal Bureau of Investigation have launched a massive search operation trying to find where Maddox may have gone or what may have happened to him.

The search has been extensive. Crews have combed the park daily, and have sifted through nearby dumpsters and scoured drainpipes and manholes. Searchers have played recordings of his parents' voices in an effort to lure the child out of possible hiding places. Drones have been sent out at night, and nearby businesses have provided surveillance video from Saturday. Diving teams, pontoon boats, search dogs and ATVs have also been involved in the search.

On Wednesday, Gastonia Police Chief Robert Helton asked for anyone who was at the park on Saturday to contact authorities, whether or not they think they have any useful information. Police are especially interested in speaking with a male jogger, and a man in a camoflague hat who was loading a silver kayak into a white pickup truck Saturday afternoon.

"If you took pictures or selfies or video, we ask that you preserve that," said Jason Kaplan, an FBI special agent assisting with the investigation. "It may not be helpful to us now, and we're not expecting that Maddox would appear in those photos, but it may have other information that may be valuable."

Authorities said there were no plans to let up on search efforts anytime soon, despite rain and thunderstorms in the forecast for Thursday.

The city of Gastonia planned to hold a candlelight vigil for Maddox at the Rotary Pavilion in downtown Gastonia at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday.

Authorities are asking anyone who was at the park on Saturday to contact them at 704-869-1075.

The FBI is offering a $10,000 reward for any information that could help them locate the boy.

Nick de la Canal is the host of Weekend Edition on Saturday/Sunday mornings, and a reporter covering breaking news, arts and culture, and general assignment stories. His work frequently appears on air and online. Periodically, he tweets: @nickdelacanal