GASTONIA, N.C. — Police said Monday morning that the Mecklenburg County Medical Examiner's Office confirmed the identity of the boy found dead last week in a Gastonia creek was Maddox Ritch, WSOC reported.
Maddox Ritch was last seen Saturday at Rankin Lake Park with his father and a friend.
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Update 11:34 a.m. EDT Oct. 1: "We are deeply saddened to learn the body found by searchers last Thursday is confirmed to be Maddox Ritch," Gastonia Police Chief Robert Helton said during the announcement that it was confirmed that the body found in the creek was Maddox's. "Hundreds of people searched tirelessly for this child and our work continues to answer every question we can about his tragic death."
Autopsy results are not yet complete and there is no timetable for when they will be done.
Investigators remain committed to finding answers about where Maddox was, how his movement occurred and how his body ended up in Long Creek. Anyone who was at Rankin Lake Park on Saturday, Sept. 22, who has not already called needs to call the Gastonia Police tip line 704-869-1075.
Rankin Lake Park will re-open to the public Wednesday, Oct. 3 since being closed Saturday, Sept. 22, when Maddox was reported missing.
Update 5:00 p.m. EDT Sept. 27: Officials with the Gastonia Fire Department said a crew of 15 searchers found the body thought to be that of 6-year-old Maddox Ritch about a mile east of the park.
Investigators said the body was discovered partially under water in an area that had been searched several times before.
Update 3:10 p.m. EDT Sept. 27: Police said search crews discovered a body believed to be Maddox's at about 1 p.m. Thursday off Marietta Street and Old Dallas Highway.
Identification of the body will be done by the medical examiner's office, police said.
Update 2:20 p.m. EDT Sept. 27: Officials with the FBI confirmed that a body believed to be Maddox's was found around 1 p.m. Thursday.
Authorities said Maddox's parents have been notified of the discovery and that the investigation is ongoing.
Update 2:10 p.m. EDT Sept. 27: Investigators told WSOCTV that a body found in a creek across from Rankin Lake Park is believed to be 6-year-old Maddox.
Update 1:55 p.m. EDT Sept. 27: Sources confirmed to WSOCTV that a body has been found in a creek across from Rankin Lake Park, where Maddox was reported missing.
Officials have blocked off the area near Robinson-Clemmer road and Old Dallas Highway.
Update 5:36 a.m. EDT Sept. 27: A community is hurting and hoping for a miracle for Maddox Ritch, the boy with special needs who disappeared Saturday as he walked with his father at Rankin Lake Park in Gastonia.
Citizens, who are not allowed to help search the park, wanted to show their support by holding a vigil Wednesday night.
"It's just hard when it's here in your community," resident Liz Hyde told WSOC-TV at the vigil.
The community prayed at the vigil for Maddox, his family and first responders who have been desperately searching for the 6-year-old boy.
"This little boy, he's got a lot of people who love him," resident Joe McFann said.
Earlier Wednesday, the FBI released the 911 call from a park employee reporting the boy missing.
Rick Foxx said he made the call Saturday afternoon from Rankin Lake Park's office after Maddox's father, Ian Ritch, approached him.
Foxx said he can't stop thinking about that day.
"The dad approached me and said he lost his kid," Foxx said. "I said, 'When is the last time you seen him?' He said that the kids, they were coming around the track, and the kid got away from him."
Update 11:00 p.m. EDT Sept. 26: Hundreds of people searched a North Carolina park in the rain for a fifth straight day, looking for the little boy who vanished last weekend without a trace.
Gastonia Police Chief Robert Helton said there’s no timetable on how long the search for the missing 6-year-old will continue.
Father Ian Ritch and a friend had the boy with them at a park in Gastonia last Saturday when Ritch said his son disappeared.
Police said they are following up on nearly 250 leads.
More than 60 new investigators and agents have been added to the search party, bringing the total to 330.
"We've really poured resources into this because we want to find Maddox. We want to find him today,” Helton said.
Authorities are also searching a lake in the park and plan to drain part of it.
Update 6:19 a.m. EDT Sept. 26: For the first time, we are hearing from 6-year-old Maddox Ritch's father Ian Ritch in an exclusive interview with "Good Morning America."
Ian Ritch said he and a friend were with Maddox last Saturday at Rankin Lake Park in Gastonia when Maddox decided to take off and got too far away from him.
"We were walking on a track around the lake. He just decided to take off from me and I let him go a little bit because he likes running so I didn't think nothing of it. He just got a little too far away from me before I could catch up to him," Ian Ritch said.
Ian said he started to panic as soon as it got to the point where he could not see Maddox anymore.
"I'd love to let you see the difference between him running and you running 'cause he's pretty fast," Ian Ritch said. It's hard, I'm so worried, and scared hoping that he's OK out there."
Ian Ritch said he wishes he could have handled the situation differently.
"I should've called him. I should've not let him get so far ahead of me before I started after him," Ian Ritch said. "It's been hard to sleep. I feel guilty because I can go into a house and lay down in a bed and my little boy might be out there in the woods sleeping on the ground. That's very upsetting."
Search crews patroled overnight on foot and on ATVs to continue the search for Maddox, authorities said in a news release Tuesday night.
Rankin Lake Park remains closed to the public.
Several tips were called into authorities after investigators held a news conference earlier in the day.
Although the community is not allowed to help with search efforts at the park, several people gathered at a nearby parking lot Tuesday night to hold a vigil.
"A lot of us are running off little sleep, no appetites, because it doesn't make sense," resident Ashley Dolby said.
About 30 people were there, who felt connected to the boy.
"All we can do is pray," resident Kara Smart said. "Keep hope alive and let police do their job."
Update 4:55 p.m. EDT Sept. 25: Maddox Ritch's mother, Carrie, is pleading for help, asking anyone who may have seen her son to come forward.
"Continue praying for him, because I just want my baby home," she said, breaking down in tears during a news conference on Tuesday. "Please, anything you can do."
The FBI is now offering a $10,000 reward for information leading to the recovery of the child. The little boy with special needs disappeared Saturday from a park in Gastonia.
Officials said search crews on ATVS checked new areas around the park Tuesday, looking for any trace of the boy.
Gastonia police officers and troopers went door-to-door Tuesday morning at businesses along Highway 321 just a few blocks away from the park. They were trying to obtain security camera footage that could reveal what happened to the child.
An employee at a local business said law enforcement has come to the shop six times since the boy went missing looking for video.
"They've checked the dumpsters, we've seen them go from business to business, and they've just been in and out of our office," Faith Gates said.
Gates also said it’s comforting knowing that investigators are thoroughly searching for the the boy.
Update 10:05 a.m. EDT Sept. 25: Officials said they're using recorded messages from Maddox's mother and father to play during the search, hoping he'll recognize their voices.
Neighbors told WSOCTV that the terrain around the park has many deep holes and they were concerned that Maddox could have fallen in one.
"Pray to God that they find him alive," resident Jerry Stewart said.
He said there is a lot of wetland around the park, and that it would be easy for a child to step into a deep drop.
"If you get too close and you miss your step, you are going to go somewhere," Stewart said.
Update 10:30 p.m. EDT Sept. 24:
Officials said they've received 80 leads as of Monday afternoon, and they're looking into them all.
"No piece of information is too small,” Gastonia Police Chief Rob Helton said. “Something that you may think is insignificant can help us."
Later in the evening, local and federal authorities posted to social media outlets asking people to not spread rumors.
"The Gastonia Police Department and the FBI ask the public not to spread rumors on social media about the search for Maddox Ritch," the post read.
Original report: Overnight, dozens of people continued to look for the child, and more than two dozen agencies are helping with the search and investigation.
Police said Maddox was with his father and another adult, who officials have yet to identify, before he disappeared.
Maddox is autistic and nonverbal but officials said there is a special team with the FBI that is highly trained and experienced in mysterious missing children's cases that are working to find him.
"We're going to explore all possibilities, including abduction, but we're also going to make sure we search every inch of land around here to make sure that he's not simply lost," said FBI Special Agent Jason Kaplan.
Police said the boy's family has been interviewed and they are cooperating with law enforcement.
On Sunday, search dogs roamed the area near Rankin Lake, where Maddox was last seen. Search boats also checked the lake with divers and sonar devices.
Police are asking anyone who may have been at Rankin Lake Park on Saturday and saw Maddox, especially if they have pictures or videos, to call them.
"If you were at Rankin Lake Park on Saturday and saw Maddox or took video or photos of their outing at the park, call us," Helton said. "We know a lot of people were in the park and we have spoken to many of them, but we have not spoken to everyone. No piece of information is too small. Something you may think is insignificant could be helpful to our case."
Crews have been searching more than 1,400 acres and will continue Monday morning. Search and rescue crews have been patrolling areas of the park on foot and on ATVs.
Maddox was last seen at the park at 1:30 p.m. Saturday.
He was last seen wearing an orange T-shirt with "I'm the man" on the front. Maddox is 4 feet tall and weighs 45 pounds. He has blond hair and blue eyes.
"They were walking around the lake," Gastonia spokeswoman Rachel Bagley said. "They got around to the back side of the lake. He started running, according to the parents, and when they started running after him, they lost sight of him, and no one has seen him ever since."
The Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department's helicopter was used Sunday night once the sun set, and used its infrared technology.
The city confirmed crews are reviewing surveillance video at the park, and crews worked through the night searching on foot and with dogs.
Officials said hundreds of volunteer agencies have assisted in the search, and the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children is also helping.
Gastonia police said additional search units from around the region have joined the search. They said hundreds of law enforcement, search and rescue teams, and state and federal authorities are now involved.
Officials said they are receiving assistance from the Gastonia Police, Gaston County Sheriff's Department, Gaston County Emergency Management, Gaston County Police, Gastonia and Gaston County Fire Departments, Lincoln County Sheriff's Department, Lincolnton Fire, Charlotte Fire, Stanley Rescue, Lincoln County Land Search team, Spartanburg County Search and Rescue and Search and Rescue Dog Assistance, and Central Carolina K-9 Search Team.
A spokesperson with the city said the park will be closed until further notice as crews continue their search.
Police advise the public to stay away from the area surrounding the park as they continue their search in the nearby neighborhoods. Officials are also asking people who live near the park to search areas around their homes where a child might hide.
"If you have a shed, barn, wooded area, go take a look and call us immediately if you find anything out of the ordinary," Helton said.
If you have any information regarding Maddox's whereabouts, police encourage you to call the new 24-hour tip line at 704-869-1075.
"Every second counts when a child is missing," Kaplan said. "Our focus is to find Maddox as quickly as possible and to bring him home."
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