BREAKING NEWS UPDATE: At approximately 1 p.m. on September 27, 2018, search crews discovered a body believed to be Maddox Ritch off of Marietta Street/Old Dallas Highway in Gastonia, according to the FBI. Maddox’s parents have been notified.

Previously published article:

(CNN) — 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, entered its sixth day on Thursday.

Here is what we know:

How Maddox disappeared

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 has diabetes and neuropathy in his feet, which causes a tingling feeling or numbness, and has some trouble running.

The search for Maddox

Ritch said that the friend who was with them and some park staff members helped him look for Maddox before authorities were contacted. At that time, Ritch said, he was still optimistic.

“I felt like we could’ve found him and there was no reason to call the police until that time period. Then it got scary,” he said.

Gastonia Police Chief Robert Helton said a part-time park employee reported Maddox missing.

According to a 911 call released by police, a caller told authorities Maddox’s parents had been searching for him for almost an hour.

“We searched everywhere,” the man said on the phone call.

Maddox is 4 feet tall and weighs 45 pounds. He has blond hair and blue eyes. Maddox was last seen wearing an orange T-shirt with the words “I am the man,” along with black shorts and closed-toe sandals.

s099186624 Body Found In Search For Missing 6 Year Old Boy With Autism

Maddox Ritch (CNN)

Federal, state and local authorities have chased more than 150 leads, conducted hundreds of interviews, gathered surveillance videos from local stores and employed dogs, drones, sonar, ATVs and infrared technology in the search for Maddox.

Authorities also partially drained the 80-acre lake to better see the shoreline. The FBI, meanwhile, has brought in its underwater search and evidence response team.

Gastonia Fire Chief Phil Welch said authorities have brought in new people every day to search a 250-acre park area.

Ritch spent some of Tuesday at the park with authorities retracing their steps, the FBI said.

What Maddox’s parents say

Maddox’s parents have encouraged anyone who may have information on the case to call the special tip line, 704-869-1075.

His mother, Carrie Ritch, said her son has a contagious smile and laugh. He loves the park, bouncy balls and his teddy bear, she said.

“Continue praying for him because I just want my baby home, please, whatever you can do,” she said. “Maddox is my whole world and my reason for living. He’s mama’s boy.”

Maddox’s father said not being able to find his son has “been torture.”

“Everybody looks at you as a monster, and I regretted it since the moment it happened,” Ian Ritch told “Good Morning America.”

“It’s hard to sleep. I feel guilty because I can go to a house and lay down on the bed,” the father said, “and he’s out there in the woods sleeping on the ground and that’s very upsetting.”

“I’m not eating,” he said. “I’m just worried about getting my little boy back.”

What authorities say 

Helton, the Gastonia police chief, said authorities want to talk to an unidentified male jogger who was in the park at the time and a professional photographer whom witnesses saw taking photos of other children dressed in Dr. Seuss costumes.

Hundreds of people were in the park on Saturday, including other blond-haired boys also wearing orange T-shirts, Helton said.

“But we need to know if you saw our blond-hair with the orange shirt,” Helton said.

The police chief said any piece of information from potential witnesses will help authorities put together a timeline.

Authorities are also hoping a $10,000 reward offered by the FBI will provide information to help find Maddox.

“We don’t want another hour to pass before we find him and bring him home,” Helton said this week.

How does Maddox’s autism affect the search?

Children with autism are often prone to wandering or bolting away. When children with autism go missing, rescuers get to know their likes and dislikes, and use familiar sounds, such as the voice of a cartoon character and a favorite song to draw them out during searches.

Maddox is nonverbal, which complicates the search for him. Hoping he would respond to his parents’ voices, authorities pumped prerecorded messages into Rankin Lake Park.

“If he’s lost in the woods, he’ll be able to hear those messages played, and we’re hoping that he’ll come to the words of his mother and his father,” FBI supervisory special agent Jason Kaplan told reporters on Monday.

“Many of these children are more likely to respond to a favorite character, a unique interest or familiar voice,” said Lori McIlwain, a co-founder and board member of the National Autism Association.

(The-CNN-Wire™ & © 2018 Cable News Network, Inc., a Time Warner Company. All rights reserved.)

Comments
  1. The whole story stinks of lies. We need a license for just about everything except the hardest job in the world – raising well-rounded humans. I’d be all for free sterilization. Some people have no business reproducing.

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