GASTONIA, N.C. (AP) — Search crews have found a body they believe to be that of a 6-year-old boy who ran off from his father at a park, a North Carolina police department said Thursday.
A statement from Gastonia police said the body was found around 1 p.m. Thursday at a location approximately 4 miles (6 kilometers) from the park where he was last seen. Identification of the body will be done by the medical examiner’s office.
Last Saturday, his father said Maddox Ritch ran off from him and a friend at Rankin Lake Park and disappeared before he could catch up to him.
The news release says the boy’s parents have been notified about the body being found, and police scheduled a news conference for later in the afternoon.
Both parents went before the media this week to plead for any information that would lead to the discovery of Maddox, who was autistic. On Wednesday, Ian Ritch appeared on national television and at a news conference to repeat the pleas.
According to the boy’s father, Ian Ritch, Maddox was about 25 feet to 30 feet (7 meters to 9 meters) away before he broke into a sprint just as a jogger passed them. The father said he is a diabetic and because he has neuropathy in his feet, he has trouble running.
“He likes running,” Ritch said. “I couldn’t catch up with him. I feel guilt for letting him get so far ahead of me before I started running after him.”
Ritch said the boy looked back at him and laughed, adding that he would slow down and then speed up again. With the help of the friend, Ritch searched for his son but couldn’t find him. Park personnel also joined in the search but didn’t see Maddox, either. After an hour, Ritch called 911, saying he delayed that call because he thought he would find his son and there was no reason to call police.