Funeral for six-year-old boy to be held on Friday; FBI continues investigation

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The funeral for Maddox Ritch, the missing 6-year-old boy with autism whose body was found in a North Carolina creek last week, is set for Friday, and the FBI continues investigating.

Maddox went missing while on a walk with his father at a Gastonia park. In an extensive search, authorities used dogs, drones and sonar, and partially drained an 80-acre lake to better see its shoreline.

Maddox’s body was found in a creek about a mile east of Rankin Lake Park, where he was last seen with his father and a friend, Gastonia Fire Chief Phil Welch said.

“I’m heartbroken,” Gastonia Police Chief Robert Helton said last week. “Our community is heartbroken, our searchers, our investigators. This is not the end we had hoped for.”

The body was partially submerged in 2 to 3 feet of water. The area, thick with underbrush, had been searched numerous times.

The medical examiner’s office positively identified the remains, Gastonia police said Monday. Autopsy results are not complete.

Investigators still hope to speak to people who were in the park that day to piece together what happened to Maddox, who was nonverbal.

Brooke Sheppard told CNN she had seen him “skipping, jogging, being a kid.”

Father mourns lost son

Maddox’s father, Ian Ritch, said he and a friend were walking 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” but he had a clear view of his son. Maddox often would run ahead but let him 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 last week.

Jason Kaplan, an FBI supervisory special agent, said investigators want to determine the cause and manner of death, as well as the boy’s exact movements.

Kaplan pleaded for anyone with information to come forward. “There’s a lot of information indicating that Maddox was where the family indicated, and his movements were what the family indicated,” he said.

On Thursday evening, Ritch posted an emotional message to his Facebook page reacting to news of his son’s death.

“I had big plans with my son. I wanted us to go fishing play ball go camping. I wanted to be his hero,” he wrote. “I wanted him to say I was more than superman or batman to him. I wanted people to ask him who his hero is and him say my daddy. Now I’m no hero I couldn’t save him or protect him at all. I would give anything to go back and save him.”

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