911 Caller Doesn't Believe Missing Boy with Autism Was at N.C. Park, But FBI Believes Dad's Account
For days, more than a dozen search crews have been scouring North Carolina’s Rankin Lake Park to find 6-year-old Maddox Ritch, who disappeared from the park on Saturday.
The park staffer who initially called 911 says he doesn’t recall ever seeing Maddox, who has autism and limited verbal skills, at the park that day, but the FBI in Charlotte says they believe the father’s account that the young boy went missing in the park.
“I’ve worked there almost three years and we see everybody come in and out of that park pretty much,” park staffer Rick Foxx said, according to CBS News. “I didn’t see that kid one time.”
Maddox was walking with his father and another adult at Gastonia’s Rankin Lake Park around 1:30 p.m. local time on Saturday when he took off running behind a jogger, Maddox’s father, Ian Ritch, previously told PEOPLE. Ritch said he his son jog in front of him, but soon, Maddox was nowhere in sight.
“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 previously told PEOPLE. “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.”
Ian said he and at least two park staffers searched for the boy before one of the workers called police. Rick Foxx made the call, according to CBS. Foxx told the site that Ian was with his girlfriend at the park that day, noting that he was suspicious of their demeanor after they reported they boy missing.
“It didn’t look as though they were that concerned,” Foxx said.
Now, the mystery is growing as some have questioned Ian’s account. However, an FBI Charlotte spokeswoman, Shelley Lynch, tells PEOPLE that Maddox “was in the park” that day.
“We believe he was in the park, but we aren’t ruling anything out,” Lynch says. “We’ve said that from the very beginning. We need to find this child. We need people to come forward who were at the park to help us.”
FBI agent Jason Kaplan said at a recent news conference that they believe Ian’s account is “accurate.”
“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,” Ian previously told PEOPLE. “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, Maddox’s mother, Carrie Ritch, spoke through tears at a press conference as she pleaded for help to find her son.
“I just want my baby home, please. Whatever you can do,” she said. “Maddox is my whole world, and my reason for living. He’s momma’s boy. I want my baby back in my arms.”
A $10,000 reward is being offered for Maddox’s recovery. City officials confirm to PEOPLE that both Carrie and Ian are cooperating with police in the investigation. Investigators are working to determine whether Maddox is simply lost or has been abducted. Dive teams have been called in and authorities plan to drain the lake for the sake of the search, according to Today.
The boy is 4’0″ and was last seen wearing an orange T-shirt that read “I am the man” along with black shorts. The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children is also assisting in the search, and officials wrote on the site that Maddox may be in need of medical attention.
Anyone with information about Ian’s whereabouts are urged to call the police department’s tip line at 704-869-1075.