Who Are Maddox Ritch's Parents? New Details About The Autistic Boy Who Has Been Missing For Five Days

Photo: Gastonia Police Department
Who Are Maddox Ritch Parents? New Details About The Autistic Boy Who Has Been Missing For Five Days

The father of an autistic boy who went missing five days ago while on a run in a North Carolina park says he is "overcome with guilt." 

Ian Ritch, 42, went on a run with his 6-year-old son, Maddox Ritch, in Gastonia's Rankin Lake Park Saturday afternoon when the boy ran too far ahead and disappeared.

"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 told Good Morning America in an interview 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."

The distraught father said he let Maddox, who has autism and is nonverbal, jet ahead because he loves to run. But he quickly realized his son had disappeared. Ian sought help from park officials and called police when they were not able to find the boy. 

Hundreds of officials from the FBI, Gastonia Police Department, Gastonia Fire Department, and other agencies have scoured the park searching for Maddox, who may be in need of medical attention, officials wrote on The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children's website.

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"We have followed more than 150 leads, conducted hundreds of interviews, gathered surveillance video from stores all over the area. Searched thousands of acres of land on foot, with ATVs and by boat. But we haven't found Maddox," said Gastonia Police Chief Robert Helton.

The search for the missing boy has been extensive, but Ian is distraught his son has not been found yet.

"After the first day, I thought they would have found him," Ian told GMA.

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Helton said he would like to speak with anyone who was in the park Saturday, including a professional photographer who he describes as a white male in his 30s who was talking photos of "three white children dressed in Dr. Suess costumes holding balloons." 

“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.”

Authorities have been playing a message with his parents' voices over loudspeakers at the park in hopes Maddox will wander out of the woods, CNN reports.

"If he's lost in the woods, he'll be able to hear those messages played, and we're hoping that he'll come to the words of his mother and his father," Kaplan said Monday.

The search has included canines, drones, and are authorities are using sonar and working on draining the lake in an effort to locate Maddox. Authorities have also been going door-to-door asking businesses around the park for security footage that may show where the boy went.

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"We want to make sure that we're checking every possible spot to find this child," Helton said.

Maddox has now been missing for five days.

“These past few days have been hell for me. I’m so broken. I’m heartbroken,” Ian told PEOPLE. “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.”

Maddox's mother made her first public appearance Tuesday and begged for anyone with information on her son's whereabouts to call the police.

"I would appreciate it if you were at the park Saturday and saw Maddox to please, urgently, please, call the tip line, please," Carrie Ritch said. "Maddox is my whole world and my reason for living. He's mama's boy."

A $10,000 reward for information that leads to Maddox's location was announced Tuesday by FBI Special Agent Jason Kaplan, ABC11 reports. 

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As the extensive search for his son continues, Ian addressed the accusations that have been made by some, claiming that he played a part in Maddox's disappearance.

“People are making it out like I did something to him. I would never hurt my little boy," he told PEOPLE. "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.” 

He even said he understood that he is the "number one suspect" in his son's disappearance and that he's given authorities "everything they asked for."

Ian did not attend the press conference Tuesday. He was out at the park assisting officials in the search for his son, who was last seen wearing an orange shit that says "I am the Man" on the front.

"I'm going to do all I can do to make sure he gets back home," Ian said. "I'll be out there searching, waiting, hoping, praying, everything I can do to get him home." 

Maddox is 4 feet tall, has blonde hair, blue eyes, and weighs 45 pounds.

Anyone with any information on Maddox’s whereabouts should call Gastonia police at 704-866-3300.

Sarah Gangraw has a degree in journalism and writes about all things news, entertainment and crime. You can follow her on Instagram and Twitter.