The father of a six-year-old autistic boy in North Carolina who vanished over the weekend while the pair were at a park together, has told how his son suddenly disappeared from view after he ran off chasing a jogger.
‘We were walking on a track around the lake and he decided to take off from me. … I didn’t think nothing of it and he got a little too far away from me,’ Ian Ritch told Good Morning America on Wednesday.
‘As soon as I got to the point where I couldn’t see him anymore, I started panicking. I couldn’t see him anywhere.’
Ritch said he was walking with Maddox and his friend around 1.30pm on Saturday near the back of the lake when his son started running behind a jogger.
The father of missing boy Maddox Ritch ‘started panicking’ after he got out of sight
Maddox is autistic and has limited verbal skills, the boy’s parents have said
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 GMA. ‘I feel like I should’ve caught him, not let him get too far,’ Ian said. ‘That’s what upsets me.
Ian Ritch said he was walking with Maddox and his friend around 1.30pm on Saturday near the back of the lake when his son started running behind a jogger and then disappeared from view
‘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, Mom, Carrie Ritch gave an emotional plea begging for help to find her son
The Gastonia Police Department spent another day searching for missing six-year-old Maddox Ritch in Rankin Lake Park in Gastonia, North Caroliona on Tuesday
Local, state and federal authorities had expanded their search two miles beyond the park’s boundaries, city police said. Hundreds of investigators, analysts and others have joined in the search for the boy in about 250 acres of the park area
On Tuesday, Maddox’s mother spoke at a press conference where she pleaded for the public’s help in locating her child.
In an emotional plea 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.
Carrie Ritch gave an emotional plea on Tuesday for help finding her missing autistic son
Maddox Ritch, six, disappeared on Saturday at a park in North Carolina with his father
The boy was running near a lake at the park when his father said he lost sight of Maddox
Drone photos from Gaston County Emergency Management Services in the search for Maddox Ritch, 6, at Rankin Lake Park in Gastonia
Maddox is 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 is autistic and has limited verbal skills.
The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, which is also assisting in the search, said in a statement that he may be in need of medical attention.
The six-year-old boy is autistic and has limited verbal skills, his parents said
Ian Ritch (pictured with Maddox) said he chased after his son but lost sight of him and he didn’t know which way the boy ran
Maddox was last seen running by a lake at Rankin Lake Park in Gastonia by his father (pictured)
Ian said park rangers helped him look for Maddox before calling police. The FBI have since joined the search and authorities have been going door-to-door at businesses along Highway 321 near the park searching for possible information.
Investigators are also working to obtain surveillance footage from different business that could tell them where Maddox went. A reward of $10,000 is being offered for any information that helps police find Maddox.
FBI Special Agent Jason Kaplan said: ‘We’re going to explore all possibilities, including abduction.
Local authorities and the FBI are conducting a massive search across the state
Authorities have been searching for Maddox for the past three days
‘But we’re also going to make sure we search every inch of land around here to make sure he’s not simply lost.’
According to Gastonia Police department in addition to the FBI, at least 24 local and state law enforcement agencies and more than 100 volunteers are assisting the search.
Officers have so far searched the lake and reviewed the park’s surveillance footage, as well as interviewing residents and people who were in the park at the time.
The FBI is offering a $10,000 reward for information that leads to the discovery of Maddox. Thousands of acres have been searched by foot, ATVs and boat
Gastonia Police Chief Robert Helton said: ‘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.
‘It’s been nearly 75 agonizing hours since six-year-old Maddox Ritch disappeared,’ Helton said Tuesday. ‘We do not want another hour to pass without finding this child and bringing him home. All the help has been humbling.
‘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,’ he added.
Anyone with information is asked to call the police department’s special tip line at 704-869-1075.