An FBI office in North Carolina announced this afternoon that a body believed to be that of a missing six-year-old boy who disappeared from a park on Saturday has been recovered.
FBI Charlotte sent out a tweet saying that a body thought to be that of Maddox Ritch was found at 1pm off of Marietta Street/Old Dallas Highway in Gastonia.
‘Maddox’s parents have been notified of the discovery. The investigation is ongoing,’ the message read.
Maddox was reported missing from Rankin Lake Park on Saturday afternoon after his father, Ian Ritch, said the boy ran away from him and he was unable to catch up with him.
A statement from Gastonia police said the grim discovery was made about 4 miles from the park. Identification of the body will be done by the medical examiner’s office.
A local registered sex offender told Fox 46 late Thursday afternoon that it was his tip that led the search crews to the boy’s body.
‘Probation and the US Marshals came over to the house and was checking around. I gave them a tip, I asked if they had looked down in the holes and the pipe,’ said Harold Early.
Early is listed as a registered sex offender in Gaston County.
The entry on the registry was convicted in 2012 in connection to three separate incidents beginning in 1980. He is currently on probation.
Earlier, park employee Rick Foxx, who called 911 on Saturday to report Maddox missing and who initially helped with the search, said he does not believe the child was ever at the park.
Foxx also claimed Ian Ritch did not seem very concerned about his special-needs son in the immediate aftermath of the boy’s disappearance.
Ian and a female companion were the last people to have seen the six-year-old before the boy vanished.
Ritch said at a press conference with police and FBI agents on Wednesday that he could not catch up with his son after letting him get far ahead of him on a footpath, for which he said he feels guilt.
‘I’m not eating. I’m not sleeping,’ Ritch said. ‘I’m just worried about getting my little boy back. I thought after the first night, he would be fine.
‘I just want my little boy back home. I want to know he’s safe. I want to give him a big hug as soon as I see him. I just want to know he’s safe.’
On the same day, the Gastonia Police Department released the 911 call that the Rankin Lake Park employee, Foxx, made after being approached by Ian Ritch.
On his 911 call, Foxx told an emergency dispatcher that a father told him his son had been missing for nearly an hour.
The park worker told the dispatcher that the missing boy was last seen by the pier and some trees, and he described him as a white male with blonde hair wearing an orange shirt and black shorts.
Five days later, Foxx said he does not believe that Maddox was ever at the 240-acre park, which has been scoured by more than 300 officers and FBI agents since Saturday.
‘I’ve worked there almost three years and we see everybody come in and out of that park pretty much,’ Foxx said. ‘I didn’t see that kid one time.’
CBS News reported that the FBI previously said it had evidence that Maddox was present at the park on Saturday afternoon, but never said what that evidence was.
In an interview with WSOC-TV, Foxx said of Ian Ritch’s demeanor on Saturday: ‘He didn’t act like a concerned parent, like I would act, or any concerned parent would act.’
Foxx told the station that Ian Ritch seemed out of breath when he first came by his office asking for help.
The park worker said he told the man to stay put while he got in a golf cart and went looking for Maddox on his own.
After making several rounds, Foxx contacted police.
When Maddox’s mother, Carrie Ritch, arrived on scene, Foxx said she appeared frantic with worry.
‘She was hysterical,’ the park worker recalled. ‘She got out of the car, and one of the sheriff’s deputies had to calm her.’
On Wednesday, Ian Ritch said he and his son, along with a friend described in media reports as his girlfriend, were making their first visit to the park.
According to Ritch, Maddox was about 25 feet to 30 feet 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.
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.
Gastonia Police Chief Robert Helton previously said they had searched thousands of acres, drained the lake and conducted hundreds of interviews.
Meanwhile, Ritch said he knows he’s a potential target for investigators in his son’s disappearance.
‘I mean, I know I’m the number one suspect when it starts. That’s plain and simple,’ Ritch told CBS News, adding that he has cooperated with investigators. ‘Everything that they’ve asked for, I’ve given them right off the bat.’
Ian told People magazine that he let his son run for a little bit but when Maddox started running faster he gave chase. Ian said he lost sight of Maddox before he could catch up to him.
‘I was terrified. I didn’t know which direction he went so I looked as hard as I could, I went different ways and everything,’ he said. ‘I tried to find him. I don’t know where he went. Usually when he takes off running he’ll slow down and stop for me to catch up with him. This time he never stopped.
Since the youngster was reported missing, hundreds of officials from the FBI, Gastonia Police Department, Gastonia Fire Department and other agencies have scoured the park hoping to find a trace of the little boy.
‘After the first day I thought they would have found him,’ Ritch told Good Morning America on Wednesday. ‘I feel like I should’ve caught him, not let him get too far,’ Ian said. ‘That’s what upsets me.
‘It’s hard to sleep. I feel guilty because I can go to a house and lay down on the bed,’ Ritch continued, ‘and he’s out there in the woods sleeping on the ground and that’s very upsetting.’
‘These past few days have been hell for me. I’m so broken. I’m heartbroken,’ Ian said. ‘Every time it gets dark at night I burst into tears because I’m thinking, ‘My little boy is out there alone’. The longer (the search is) going the harder it gets because I’m so worried. He hasn’t had anything to eat or drink.’
He added: ‘People are making it out like I did something to him. I would never hurt my little boy. I love him to death and I just want him back. I’ve been feeling the blame since this happened. I just wish I would have caught him before he got too far away from me. It’s broken my heart to think that I just let him get too far away.’
On Tuesday, Maddox’s mother, Carrie, made an emotional plea for the public’s help in locating her child.
She asked anyone who was at the park on Saturday to call the police tip line.
‘Continue praying for him because I just want my baby home, please,’ she said. ‘Whatever you can do. Maddox is my whole world, and my reason for living. He’s momma’s boy.’
‘I want my baby back in my arms,’ Carrie Ritch added.
Maddox was described as four feet tall with blond hair and blue eyes.
He was last seen wearing an orange T-shirt with the words ‘I am the man’ and black shorts. His parents said he was autistic and had limited verbal skills.
SOURCE: DailyMail, by Snejana Farberov