The body of who authorities believe to be 6-year-old Maddox Ritch was found in a creek on Thursday afternoon.
“I’m heartbroken. This is not the end we had hoped for,” Chief Robert Helton of the Gastonia Police Department said. “I want to take this opportunity to thank all of you for help….. I’ve never seen a larger response in my 32 years of business.”
Maddox, who disappeared on Saturday afternoon while with his father Ian Ritch, 42, at the Rankin Lake Park in Gastonia, was found around a mile east of his last known location. A searcher found the boy while walking down the middle of a rural area in Long Creek.
A pathway leads from Rankin State Park to Long Creek, which Maddox could have possibly walked down, according to Chief Welch of the Gastonia Fire Department. FBI Supervisory Agent Jason Kaplan added in that the boy’s body was camouflaged and “mixed in a harsh environment” of underbrush, sticks, and other natural strainers.
“The investigation is not over..It’s absolutely amazing that he was found. It was extremely difficult even when we were standing right next to him,” Kaplan said, while pleading for anyone at Rankin Lake Park over the weekend to come forward.
Kaplan also added that Maddox was found partially submerged in around two to three feet of water.
At this time, authorities cannot answer what clothing Maddox was found wearing or whether there was trauma to his body.
The park will remain closed while authorities continue to investigate.
As CrimeOnline previously reported, 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.”
The FBI sent in a “special team” with extensive experience and training with missing children cases.
“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,” Helton said earlier this week. “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.”
Check back with CrimeOnline as additional details become available.
MADDOX RITCH: Officials in Gastonia hold news conference after a body believed to be Maddox Ritch's was found. LATEST: https://abc11.com/4352890/
Posted by ABC11 WTVD on Thursday, September 27, 2018
[Feature Photo: Maddox Ritch/Handout]