Police find body they believe to be missing 6-year-old boy

GASTONIA, N.C. (AP) — The chief of a North Carolina police department said Thursday he was "heartbroken" over the discovery of a body believed to be that of a missing 6-year-old boy.

Gastonia Police Chief Robert Helton fought back tears and a breaking voice during a news conference in which it was announced officials believed the body searchers found was that of Maddox Ritch.

"Our community's heartbroken. This is not the end that we hoped for," Helton said. "I've lost a lot of sleep this week worrying about Maddox."

11 PHOTOS
Body of missing North Carolina boy Maddox Ritch found
See Gallery
Body of missing North Carolina boy Maddox Ritch found

Maddox Scott Ritch, age 6, was last seen at Rankin Lake Park in Gastonia, North Carolina, on September 22, 2018.  He was last seen wearing an orange t-shirt with writing "I am the man" on it and black shorts with a white stripe.

Maddox has autism and is described as being nonverbal.

(Photo: FBI)

Maddox Scott Ritch, age 6, was last seen at Rankin Lake Park in Gastonia, North Carolina, on September 22, 2018.  He was last seen wearing an orange t-shirt with writing "I am the man" on it and black shorts with a white stripe.

Maddox has autism and is described as being nonverbal.

(Photo: FBI)

Maddox Scott Ritch, age 6, was last seen at Rankin Lake Park in Gastonia, North Carolina, on September 22, 2018.  He was last seen wearing an orange t-shirt with writing "I am the man" on it and black shorts with a white stripe.

Maddox has autism and is described as being nonverbal.

(Photo: FBI)

A search team walks down Tulip Drive in Gastonia, N.C., Wednesday, Sept. 26, 2018. Local law enforcement officers, fire and rescue personnel, and the FBI continue to look for clues to the whereabouts of 6-year-old Maddox Ritch who disappeared from Rankin Lake Park near downtown Gastonia, on Saturday, Sept. 22. (John Clark /The Gaston Gazette via AP)
Ian Ritch walks in for a press conference Wednesday, Sept. 26, 2018, in Gastonia, N.C., about his 6-year-old son Maddox Ritch who disappeared while they were visiting Rankin Lake Park near downtown Gastonia, Saturday, Sept. 22, 2018. (John Clark /The Gaston Gazette via AP)
Gastonia Police Chief Robert Helton, left, listens as Ian Ritch speaks during a press conference Wednesday, Sept. 26, 2018, in Gastonia, N.C., about his 6-year-old son Maddox Ritch who disappeared while they were visiting Rankin Lake Park near downtown Gastonia Saturday, Sept. 22, 2018. (John Clark /The Gaston Gazette via AP)
HAPPENING NOW: Gastonia PD, FBI, and several other agencies giving the latest update on the search for Maddox Ritch… https://t.co/aH3SwMfBhB
The father of 6-year-old Maddox Ritch was walking around this lake with his child when police say Maddox ran ahead… https://t.co/JPr09sjKEM
We are searching all around the Rankin lake Park for 6-year-old Maddox Ritch. The @GPDNC SWAT team hand searched th… https://t.co/Z4pWdsbB1V
SEARCH CONTINUES FOR AUTISTIC CHILD: This is the third day authorities are searching for missing 6 y/o Maddox Ritch… https://t.co/hBq14rblLU
POLICE: The search continues at Rankin Lake Park in Gastonia for 6-year-old Maddox Ritch. Dogs from the S-B-I & Na… https://t.co/0faTBZ4LSK
HIDE CAPTION
SHOW CAPTION
of
SEE ALL
BACK TO SLIDE

Gastonia Fire Chief Phil Welch said the body was found in a creek, slightly more than a mile (1.6 kilometers) east of Rankin Lake Park, by a searcher who was walking down the middle of the creek as his partners stood on the bank. He said the area had been searched previously by drones, all-terrain vehicles and foot patrols.

Welch said a crew of 15 searchers returned to the creek and discovered the body.

"There is no sense of accomplishment here today," Welch said. "There is grieving down at our command post."

FBI agent Jason Kaplan, also fighting tears, said the investigation into what happened to Maddox will continue. He said the water wasn't more than 3 feet (0.9 meters) deep at the spot where the body was found, adding that it's too early to say whether foul play was involved. Neither he nor the other officials would provide additional details regarding the body being found, including how long the body had been in the creek.

Last Saturday, Maddox Ritch's father said the boy ran off from him and a friend at the park and disappeared before he could catch up to him.

The news release says the boy's parents have been notified about the body being found, and police scheduled a news conference for later in the afternoon.

Both parents went before the media this week to plead for any information that would lead to the discovery of Maddox, who was autistic. On Wednesday, Ian Ritch appeared on national television and at a news conference to repeat the pleas.

According to the boy's father, Ian Ritch, Maddox was about 25 feet to 30 feet (7 meters to 9 meters) away before he broke into a sprint just as a jogger passed them. The father said he is a diabetic and because he has neuropathy in his feet, he has trouble running.

"He likes running," 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 said the boy looked back at him and laughed, adding that he would slow down and then speed up again. With the help of the friend, Ritch searched for his son but couldn't find him. Park personnel also joined in the search but didn't see Maddox, either. After an hour, Ritch called 911, saying he delayed that call because he thought he would find his son and there was no reason to call police.

Read Full Story

Sign up for Breaking News by AOL to get the latest breaking news alerts and updates delivered straight to your inbox.

Subscribe to our other newsletters

Emails may offer personalized content or ads. Learn more. You may unsubscribe any time.