The body of 6-year-old Maddox Ritch was believed to have been found Thursday, less than a mile from where he went missing at a North Carolina park, officials announced during an emotional press conference.
The discovery of the remains ended the search for the boy, who had autism and was nonverbal, on its sixth day.
“I’m heartbroken,” a visibly upset Gastonia Police Chief Robert Helton told reporters. “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.
The area in which Maddox’s body was found had been searched “numerous times,” including by drones, ATV teams and foot patrols, Gastonia Fire Chief Phil Welch said.
“There is no sense of accomplishment here today,” Welch said. “There’s grieving.”
It was not clear where or how Maddox may have entered the water.
“There are still a lot of unanswered questions,” Helton added.
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].”
Identification of the remains will be done by the medical examiner's office, the city of Gastonia tweeted.