Officials Confirm Body in Creek Is 6-Year-Old Maddox Ritch as FBI Warns 'Don't Spread Rumors'
“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
Officials in North Carolina have confirmed that the body found last week in a creek is of Maddox Ritch, the 6-year-old boy with autism who went missing from a Gastonia park on Sept. 27.
“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.”
An investigation into the boy’s death is ongoing. Autopsy results are not yet complete and when autopsy results will be complete is not known at this time, according to the statement.
“Investigators remain committed to finding answers about where Maddox was, how his movement occurred and how his body ended up in Long Creek,” the statement continued.
FBI agent Jason Kaplan said Thursday it is “too early” to say whether foul play is suspected. City officials confirmed to PEOPLE that Maddox’s parents, Carrie and Ian Ritch, were cooperating with police in the investigation.
“Please, don’t spread rumors, theories, or speculation on social media about Maddox Ritch,” officials with the FBI in Charlotte tweeted on Monday. “The investigation is ongoing, we are working hard to determine how he got into the creek.”
Maddox, who has autism and limited verbal skills, was walking with his father and another adult at the park around 1:30 p.m. local time on Saturday, Sept. 27, when he took off running.
Maddox’s father, Ian, previously told PEOPLE that he and his friend were walking with Maddox near the lake that afternoon when the playful boy took off running behind a jogger. It was common for Maddox to run around, so Ian allowed the boy to jog ahead for fun, he said. But when Maddox began running faster, Ian said he took off after him and wasn’t able to catch up with his son before losing sight of the boy.
The days-long search for Maddox ended in tragedy on Thursday when officials found his body in a creek just one mile from the park where he disappeared.
A woman says that she interacted with Maddox on the Saturday that he went missing.
Brooke Sheppard told WBTV that she stopped by Gastonia’s Rankin Lake Park on Sep. 22 for a church picnic. She claimed that she spotted Ritch, who had autism and limited verbal skills, as she took a walk with her mother and daughter.
Sheppard said, “I can remember [my mother] looking over and asking him, ‘Hey buddy, are you tired?’ because he had just been skipping, jogging, being a kid.”
Sheppard recalled that when Ritch did not reply and ran away, she assumed that he was returning to his guardian. But when she heard that a boy was missing, she told WBTV, “I knew immediately that was him because I can remember seeing him … I can just remember it to a T.”
Maddox’s visitation will be held on Thursday, Oct. 4 from 7 to 9 p.m. at Raymer-Kepner Funeral Home in Huntersville, North Carolina. His funeral will be held on Friday, Oct. 5 at 11 a.m. A private burial will also take place.