Maddox Ritch Likely Died of 'Accidental Drowning,' Autopsy Shows: Report

Maddox Ritch
Gastonia Police Department

Maddox Ritch, the North Carolina boy with autism found dead days after disappearing at Rankin Lake Park in September, died as a result of drowning, authorities said.

The 6-year-old child’s body showed no signs of trauma, according to an autopsy conducted by the Mecklenburg County Medical Examiner’s Office that was obtained by NBC Charlotte

Maddox’s body was normally developed and nourished, and blood samples taken from him returned normal results, the autopsy reportedly showed. The little boy did have multiple facial and upper neck wounds that officials said were caused after his death. He suffered no bone injuries.

Though the exam was not conclusive due to the decomposition of Maddox’s body, the medical examiner was reportedly able to determine he likely died because he had accidentally drowned. 

Maddox was found dead about five days after his father said he lost sight of him as they walked along a path in Rankin Lake Park on Sept. 22. 

Investigators said Maddox’s dad, Ian Ritch, told them he and his girlfriend were unable to keep up with him, and after about an hour of searching to no avail, the police were called. 

"As soon as I got to the point where I couldn’t see him anymore, I started panicking. I couldn’t see him anywhere,” Ritch later told “Good Morning America" while Maddox was still missing.

“It’s been torture. I’m not eating, not sleeping, I’m just worried about getting my little boy back,” he said to CBS News at the time.

The FBI aided local law enforcement in the search for Maddox and went on to announce a $10,000 reward for information leading to the child’s safe return, as loved ones and the community feared the worst.

Then on Sept. 27, authorities announced they had made an unwanted and tragic discovery. Maddox’s body was found 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 his father said he had last been seen. 

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

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