Body believed to be of missing North Carolina boy with autism found

GASTONIA, N.C. — A body believed to be that of an autistic 6-year-old boy who went missing after his father lost sight of him in a North Carolina park has been found, the FBI in Charlotte, North Carolina, said Thursday.

“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.”

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.

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.

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