Missing boy Maddox Smith

‘I would never hurt my little boy’: Dad of Maddox Ritch speaks out after autistic son, 6, disappears while in his care

The father of an autistic little boy who disappeared on Saturday while at a Gastonia area park in North Carolina, says he is “overcome with guilt” as a massive search continues to locate the child.

People reports that 42-year-old Ian Ritch, father to missing boy Maddox Ritch, 6, was watching over his son on Saturday while they were at the Rankin Lake Park. At around 1:30 p.m., Maddox ran ahead of his father, and before Ian could reach him, the boy disappeared.

“These past few days have been hell for me. I’m so broken. I’m heartbroken,” Ian told People. “Every time it gets dark at night I burst into tears because I’m thinking, ‘My little boy is out there alone.’ The longer [the search is] going the harder it gets because I’m so worried. He hasn’t had anything to eat or drink.”

Ian said his son started running after a jogger on Saturday afternoon, which didn’t seem unusual since Maddox frequently ran around playfully. He said his son would often run around but slow down before he got too far.

When Maddox started running faster, Ian thought he would catch up to him as he usually did, but within minutes the boy 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. 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 also touched on accusations from people on social media, who made comments insinuating he may have done something to his child.

“People are making it out like I did something to him. I would never hurt my little boy. I love him to death and I just want him back. I’ve been feeling the blame since this happened. I just wish I would have caught him before he got too far away from me. It’s broken my heart to think that I just let him get too far away.”

As CrimeOnline previously reported, the FBI sent in a “special team” with extensive experience and training with missing children cases. Authorities said they are also trying to determine whether the little boy is lost or possibly abducted. At this point, there are no clear answers but police are hoping someone at the park may have saw something that could help them find Maddox.

“If you were at Rankin Lake Park on Saturday and saw Maddox or took video or photos of their outing at the park, call us,” Chief Robert Helton of the Gastonia Police Department said. “We know a lot of people were in the park and we have spoken to many of them, but we have not spoken to everyone. No piece of information is too small. Something you may think is insignificant could be helpful to our case.”

The National Center for Missing & Exploited Children (NCMEC) also joined in the search efforts. The organization stated Maddox may be in need of medication. 

“Unfortunately it’s not uncommon for special needs children, or a boy who has autism or a girl who has autism, to get lost or be missing so it’s something we deal with, unfortunately, with some frequency so the FBI has special resources,” FBI supervisory special agent Jason Kaplan said, according to the Gaston Gazette.

Maddox is 4-feet-tall and weighs around 45 pounds. He has blonde hair, blue eyes and was last seen wearing black shorts and an orange shirt with “I’m the Man” printed on the front.

Anyone with any information on the little boy’s whereabouts should call Gastonia police at 704-866-3300.

The story is still developing. Check back with CrimeOnline as additional details become available.

[Feature Photo: Maddox Ritch/Handout]