GASTONIA, NC (WBTV) - The 6-year-old boy who sparked an intense search at a Gastonia park was at the park before he disappeared, Gastonia police confirmed Wednesday, hours after reopening the park to the public.
Ritch’s body was found at Long Creek near the park last Thursday. The discovery came after a six-day search that focused on Rankin Lake Park in Gastonia.
The park was closed when the search began and for several days following the discovery of the boy’s body, as the investigation continued.
The exact cause of death has not been determined as autopsy results are pending.
“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. “Hundreds of people searched tirelessly for this child and our work continues to answer every question we can about his tragic death.”
The 6-year-old disappeared while he was at the park with his father and the father’s girlfriend on Saturday, September 22. On Thursday, the FBI confirmed the body, believed to be Maddox, was found around 1 p.m. off of Marietta Street near Old Dallas Highway, near a bridge by the creek.
While the location was within walking distance of the park, investigators said it was unlikely Maddox was swept from the lake into the creek because of a screen that blocks the area feeding into the creek.
At a press conference several hours after the body was found, officials said it was “absolutely amazing” that he was found.
“Even standing right next to him, he was almost completely invisible.”
Law enforcement agencies continue pleading with the public, asking anyone who was at the park Saturday to come forward.
Crews were searching anywhere they thought the little boy may have wandered off too, including inside drainage pipes. “We desperately need to hear from those in the park on Saturday,” FBI Charlotte tweeted, “704-869-1075.”
Maddox’s father, one of the last people to reportedly be with Maddox before his disappearance, posted an emotional statement on Facebook after learning his son’s body was found.
“Maddox was my only child and he will be the only one i will ever have,” Ian Ritch posted on Facebook. “Now today i found out im not a dad anymore.”
According to the obituary, a visitation will be held from 7 to 9 p.m. on Thursday, Oct. 4 at Raymer-Kepner Funeral Home in Huntersville, NC for Maddox.
The funeral service will be held at 11 a.m. on Friday, Oct. 5 in the chapel at Raymer-Kepner Funeral Home in Huntersville.
The burial will be held private.
CONFIRMED: @GPDNC is thanking everyone who came forward with tips to help find Madddox Ritch. Though the outcome was not what anyone wanted, police are now able to confirm that the 6 year old was at Rankin Lake Park. Autopsy is still pending. pic.twitter.com/4b0En8Pxy3
— Bria Bell (@BriaBellTV) October 3, 2018
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