Possible last witness sought after body found believed to be missing boy with autism

Body found in case of missing boy with autism

Investigators in North Carolina believe they found the body of a missing six-year-old boy in a shallow creek near the area where he was reported missing last Saturday.  According to his father, Maddox Ritch ran away from him in a park and he couldn't catch him. 

More than 300 investigators spent nearly a week, poring over hundreds of leads and searching thousands of acres for Maddox. In the end, this was not the conclusion anyone hoped for, but police say there are still a lot of unanswered questions.

Formal identification of the body could take days and investigators would still like to speak with people who were at the park Saturday. They say there is a man in a white truck they have not been able to locate who investigators believe may have been the last witness to see Maddox.  

Gastonia police chief Robert Helton struggled to speak Thursday, while announcing investigators believe they found Maddox's body. 

"Our community is heartbroken. Our searchers. Our investigators. This is not the end that we had hoped for," Helton said.

Maddox, who had autism and was non-verbal, was last seen Saturday at Rankin Lake Park in Gastonia. His father told police he couldn't catch up when the boy ran after a jogger.

"There is a lot of information indicating that Maddox was where the family indicated he was, and that his movements were what they indicated," said FBI special agent Jason Kaplan.

Hundreds of investigators spent nearly a week, by air, boat and foot, looking for Maddox. Thursday afternoon, authorities said 15 searchers found a body, camouflaged in a shallow creek, roughly a mile from the park in an area that had been searched before.

Kaplan said investigators are still looking to answer how he got there, the manner and cause of his death and whether or not a crime was committed.

Earlier this week, Maddox's parents both made emotional public pleas for information leading to his safe return. 

"I want my baby back in my arms," mother Carrie Ritch said. 

"It's torture. I just want my little boy back home," father Ian Ritch said. 

In a lengthy Facebook post Thursday night, Maddox's father Ian Ritch thanked investigators and said he is distraught. "Today I found out I'm not a dad anymore," he wrote. "I would give anything to go back and save him."