Body found off highway believed to be missing autistic boy

FBI Charlotte

As the search for Maddox Ritch continues, the 6-year-old boy's father spoke at a news conference in Gastonia Wednesday.

Maddox, who is autistic and does not speak, disappeared on Saturday when he ran ahead of his father at Rankin Lake Park.

Crews discovered the body partially underwater at about 1 p.m. off Marietta Street/Old Dallas Highway, a little over one mile outside of the park, authorities said. Maddox's parents have been notified. The father told WJW-TV that he has trouble running because he has diabetes and suffers from neuropathy in his feet.

At a news conference Tuesday, Maddox's mother, Carrie Ritch, begged anyone with information to come forward.

"We search the park completely every day".

"We don't want another hour to pass before we find him and bring him home", Helton said.

Kaplan said they still want to know where Maddox entered the water, but he would not say if there was trauma to his body, or if he was wearing the clothes he was last seen in.

"They were walking around the lake", Gastonia city spokeswoman Rachel Bagley told WSOC. At this point, there are no clear answers but police are hoping someone at the park may have saw something that could help them find Maddox. "I'm just anxious about getting my little boy back".

On Wednesday, police released the 911 call that was made almost an hour after Maddox went missing. That location is around seven miles from where Ritch was last seen.

The FBI arrived in Gastonia to aid local law enforcement in the search for Maddox.

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Gastonia police said they had searched this stretch of land many times before, but were retracing their steps because they believed Maddox could have been moving around as time passed.

Maddox has blond hair, blue eyes and is four feet tall, according to a missing-person poster from the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

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

Authorities said they are investigating all possibilities into what led to Maddox's disappearance. So he let him run ahead about 20 to 30 feet. He said Maddox took off running in the opposite direction of his father and his friend Saturday at Rankin Lake Park.

"I started worrying once I got back and didn't see him anymore", the father said.

The FBI has offered a $10,000 reward in the case and Gastonia Police Chief Robert Helton said there are many more potential witnesses investigators want to speak with. He got out of my view, and that's whenever I never seen him again.

He has blonde hair and blue eyes.

"We have followed more than 150 leads, conducted hundreds of interviews, gathered surveillance video from stores all over the area".

"No piece of information is too small".

Hundreds of people were in the park on Saturday, including other blond-haired boys also wearing orange T-shirts, Helton said. "It may not be helpful to us now, and we're not expecting that Maddox would appear in those photos, but it may have other information that may be valuable".

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