Maddox Ritch Case: What to Know About North Carolina Boy Found Dead After Search

Maddox Ritch
Gastonia Police Department

The search for Maddox Ritch, a 6-year-old boy with autism who vanished Saturday, came to a tragic end last week. On Thursday, officials announced they had found the body of a child thought to be Maddox.

Below is a timeline of the investigation:

Saturday, Sept. 22

Investigators said Maddox's father told them he lost track of his son at about 1:30 p.m. at Rankin Lake Park in Gastonia, North Carolina, about 20 miles away from Charlotte.

Maddox had been walking with his dad and his dad’s girlfriend when the child ran up ahead, and they couldn’t keep up, according to reports. 

First responders were first called at 2:33 p.m., according to dispatch records obtained by WCNC.

Sunday, Sept. 23

The FBI arrived in Gastonia to aid local law enforcement in the search for Maddox. The Child Abduction Rapid Deployment (CARD) Team joined the search as well. 

Monday, Sept. 24

Officials revealed the outfit Maddox was last seen wearing, an orange shirt that read “I’m the Man” and sandal-like shoes with closed toes. 

FBI Supervisor Jason Kaplan told reporters during a news conference that Maddox’s parents had recorded messages for crews to play while they searched for him. 

Gastonia Police said an Amber Alert had not been issued in the case because it did not meet the criteria, which require a child’s disappearance be tied to abduction.

Tuesday, Sept. 25

The FBI announced a $10,000 reward for information leading to Maddox's safe return. 

Carrie Ritch, Maddox's mother, spoke to local media and urged anyone who was at the park on Saturday to call the tip line at 704-869-1075. 

"Maddox is my whole world and my reason for living," she said during a press conference.

Maddox’s father, Ian Ritch, spent the day with officers retracing his steps at the park, officials said. 

Gastonia Police Chief Robert Helton told reporters that a professional photographer and a male jogger were in the area at the time of Maddox’s disappearance and asked that they reach out to authorities. 

Wednesday, Sept. 26

Ian Ritch, Maddox’s father, spoke to the media about his son’s disappearance. 

"We were walking on a track around the lake and he decided to take off from me. ... I didn’t think nothing of it and he got a little too far away from me," Ian Ritch told "Good Morning America." "As soon as I got to the point where I couldn’t see him anymore, I started panicking. I couldn’t see him anywhere."

He also spoke to CBS News, saying: “It’s been torture. I’m not eating, not sleeping, I’m just worried about getting my little boy back.”

Ritch said neuropathy in his feet caused by diabetes makes it difficult for him to run and he was unable to catch up to his son. 

"I thought he might have got lost in the woods. After all this time, it's giving me doubts. It makes me wonder if somebody got him in the parking lot," Ritch said.

"No," he replied when asked if he did anything to harm Maddox.

FBI agent Jason Kaplan said Maddox's parents are cooperating with the investigation, CBS reported.

Helton asked that a man seen at the lake to call the tip line. He was seen wearing a camouflage hat, loading kayaks into a white pickup truck.

Thursday, Sept. 27

An FBI dive team plans to search the lake, using different equipment than what had been used in previous searches for Maddox. 

The park employee who made the initial 911 call spoke out, saying he didn’t believe Maddox was ever at Rankin Lake Park. 

"It didn't look as though, they were that concerned," Foxx said of the boy's father and his girlfriend to CBS News. "I've worked there almost three years and we see everybody come in and out of that park pretty much. I didn't see that kid one time."

The FBI previously said it had evidence Maddox was at the park Saturday, but did not specify what that evidence was. 

Ritch told CBS News he took two polygraph tests, but the FBI would not comment on the results. 

Searchers discovered a body believed to be Maddox on Thursday, city officials and the FBI said.

“I’m heartbroken,” a visibly upset Gastonia Police Chief Robert Helton told reporters on Thursday. “Our community’s heartbroken … this is not the end that we hoped for.”

The body of the child, believed to be Maddox, was discovered partially underwater in a marshy area of Long Creek near Marietta Street and Old Dallas Highway in Gastonia.

The area in which the body was found was thick with underbrush and was of varying depths, reaching between 2 and 3 feet, with its shore only reaching about a foot deep. 

He was found about three-quarters of a mile away from where Maddox’s father, Ian Ritch, said he had lost sight of his son when he took off running in Rankin Lake Park about 1:30 p.m. Saturday.

Maddox's father shared his heartbreak in a moving Facebook post after his son's body was found.

"Today I found out I'm not a dad anymore," Ian Ritch wrote on Thursday. "From this moment on for the rest of my life I will live with the guilt of not being there to save my son. The most important person in my life."

It was not clear where or how Maddox may have entered the water. 

“There are still a lot of unanswered questions,” Helton said.

Jason Kaplan, an FBI supervisory special agent, choked up as he noted the investigation is not over and called for anyone who may have been in the park on Saturday to come forward. 

“We still want to hear from the people that were in the park that day,” he said. “We need to know as much as we can about the movement [of Maddox].” 

Friday, Sept. 28

Witness Brooke Sheppard told local channel WBTV she saw Maddox in Rankin Lake Park the day he went missing. While walking with her daughter, she saw the little boy "skipping, jogging, being a kid," she said.

She watched him as he ran toward the park office, she said in the interview published Friday. When she heard about the missing child, she knew it was the same boy.

When she heard a body had been found, "my heart broke," she said.

Sheppard says she has been speaking with detectives as they look into his death.

Maddox's funeral will take place on Friday, October 5, according to an online obituary. His burial will be private.

"Maddox was a sweet and loving little boy who was full of laughter," the obituary reads. "He loved Paw Patrol, his Teddy, playing with his bouncy balls, but above all he loved his mom and dad the most."

Police have not said whether foul play is suspected and have not named any suspects. The investigation is ongoing.

Monday, Oct. 1

Gastonia Police confirmed the body found in Long Creek was that of Maddox Ritch.

“We are deeply saddened to learn the body found by searchers last Thursday is confirmed to be Maddox Ritch,” Gastonia Police Chief Robert Helton said in a statement Monday. “Hundreds of people searched tirelessly for this child and our work continues to answer every question we can about his tragic death.”

The Mecklenburg County Medical Examiner’s Office made the confirmation. Autopsy results are not yet complete, officials said.

"Investigators remain committed to finding answers about where Maddox was, how his movement occurred and how his body ended up in Long Creek," police said.

Anyone who was at Rankin Lake Park on Saturday, Sept. 22, who has not already called, has been asked to contact the Gastonia Police tip line at 704-869-1075.

Rankin Lake Park will re-open to the public on Wednesday, Oct. 3, authorities said.

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