On Tuesday afternoon, the FBI announced a $10,000 reward for information that leads to the whereabout of an autistic boy who disappeared while at North Carolina park with his father.
The Gastonia Police Department reports that 6-year-old Maddox Ritch disappeared on Saturday afternoon at around 1:30 p.m. from the Rankin Lake Park,off of Hwy 321 in Gastonia. The boy’s father, Ian Ritch, was with Maddox when the little boy ran ahead of him and vanished.
Rankin Lake Park in Gastonia will remain closed to the public until further notice. Search crews will patrol overnight…
Although investigators have expanded the search to include areas beyond the lake area, the park will remain closed until further notice as they continue search efforts.
As CrimeOnline previously reported, Ian stated he was “heartbroken” over his son’s disappearance and is worried for his safety.
“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.”
After Maddox started running after a jogger on Saturday afternoon, Ian said it 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.”
Maddox’s mother, Carrie Ritch, asked for prayers for her son and said she the boy is her entire world and “reason for living.”
“I would appreciate it if you were at the park Saturday and saw Maddox, to please, urgently, please, call the tip line, please,” Carrie said while reading a statement. “Continue praying for him because I just want my baby home, please. Whatever you can do.”
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 704-869-1075.
The story is still developing. Check back with CrimeOnline as additional details become available.
[Feature Photo: Maddox Ritch/Handout]