Body found at North Carolina park believed to be missing boy

GASTONIA, N.C. – According to the FBI, a body found at a park in North Carolina is believed to be a missing boy.

Six-year-old Maddox Ritch went missing last week after his father lost sight of him when he took off running in a North Carolina park.

The search for the missing boy, who has autism and is nonverbal, came to a tragic end on Thursday.

Authorities are searching for a 6-year-old boy with autism, who is described as nonverbal and has been missing since Saturday.

The FBI’s Underwater Search and Evidence Response Team was in the water earlier Thursday at Rankin Lake Park when they made the devastating discovery.

Hours later, officials said, “With heavy hearts we announce a body believed to be 6-year-old Maddox Ritch was found at approximately 1 p.m. off of Marietta Street/Old Dallas Highway in Gastonia. Maddox’s parents have been notified of the discovery. The investigation is ongoing.”

On September 22, Maddox took off running during a walk around the lake, a police spokeswoman said.

Maddox’s father, Ian Ritch, said he and a friend were walking with Maddox in the park when his son ran ahead, likely triggered by a passing jogger. Maddox was about 25 to 30 feet away when he broke into a sprint, Ritch said.

Ritch said he “was giving him just a little leeway, freedom” when he let him run up ahead, but he had a clear view of his son.

Maddox often runs ahead of him but would usually slow down and stop to give him time to catch up, Ritch said.

“I couldn’t catch up with him. I feel guilt for letting him get so far ahead of me before I started running after him,” Ritch told reporters on Wednesday.

Ritch said he, the friend who was with them and park staff members first helped search for Maddox. Gastonia Police Chief Robert Helton said a part-time park employee reported Maddox missing.