After six days of searching, the tale of Maddox Ritch has ended in tragedy.
Maddox, a young six-year-old nonverbal boy on the autism spectrum, was out with his father on a walk in the park on Saturday.
He and his father had spent time walking around, enjoying the lake, and watching the turtles go by.
Sometime during the day, Maddox took off running and was unable to be found again.
Search party efforts were in full swing for the next several days. The 80-acre lake in that park was partially drained so that the shoreline could be seen more easily.
A $10,000 reward was offered by the FBI for any credible information that may lead them to Maddox, and over 150 leads were followed up on.
Local and state police were involved in this intense search, and the FBI was also a part of it.
Drones and search dogs were used in these efforts, as well as infrared and sonar technology.
SWAT teams also scoured the entire lake, as well as the waterways surrounding it, with kayaks to find Maddox.
At 1 pm on Thursday, Maddox’s body was found near a highway around the Marietta Street and Old Dallas Highway area, located in Gastonia, North Carolina – which is also where Maddox lived and is the location of the park he disappeared from.
The remains were identified by Gastonia’s own local medical examiner.
As of right now, authorities are working on an investigation into the disappearance and death of this young boy.
They are currently seeking out two persons of interest: a photographer who was snapping pictures of children in the park, and an unidentified man who was jogging in the park during the time of Maddox’s disappearance.
It is still too early to be certain if foul play was involved or if this is merely a tragic accident.
Two days before this sad discovery, Ian Ritch, Maddox’s father, was understandably very concerned and worried.
He thought Maddox might have been lost in the woods but, after the several days of searching with such intense efforts turning up no results, he found himself no longer sure if he was simply lost.
When Maddox first disappeared, Ian talked about how he had lost sight of the six-year-old boy when he wandered too far ahead of him.
He suffered immense guilt for allowing him to get such a lead before getting up and rushing after him.
Usually, he allowed his son to have a little bit of freedom when they were out, always keeping an eye on him and maintaining a very clear view of him.
But when Maddox was about 30 feet away, he suddenly began to sprint, and it was at this point that Ian was unable to catch up.
Maddox was a beautiful soul whose life cast light on all those around him. He was, and is, very deeply loved.
We hope he rests in peace, and that authorities are able to solve this case as soon as possible to bring closure to his family.