Massive Search Underway for 6-Year-Old Boy with Autism Who Vanished from North Carolina Park
At least two dozen law enforcement agencies are searching for a 6-year-old boy who vanished on Saturday while at a North Carolina park with his father.
Authorities say Maddox Ritch, who has autism and is nonverbal, was walking with his father and another adult at Gastonia’s Rankin Lake Park around 1:30 p.m. when he took off running, according to WSOC. His father lost sight of him, and the boy hasn’t been seen since.
“They were walking around the lake,” Gastonia spokeswoman Rachel Bagley told WSOC. “They got around to the back side of the lake. He started running, according to the parents. When they started running after him, they lost sight of him.”
FBI officials in Charlotte have also joined the search, and one agent, Jason Kaplan, said in a weekend news conference that authorities are working to determine whether Ritch was abducted or is simply lost.
“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,” Gastonia Police Department chief Robert Helton urged the public at a news conference on Sunday.
“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.”
Ritch is 4 feet tall 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 Ritch may be in need of medical attention.
Ritch’s father did not immediately respond to a request for comment from PEOPLE.
Search teams have even been scouring the lake for the little boy and the FBI’s Child Abduction Rapid Deployment Team arrived to the scene on Sunday, according to the Gaston Gazette.
“Unfortunately it’s not uncommon for special needs children, or a boy who has autism or a girl who has autism, to get lost or be missing so it’s something we deal with, unfortunately, with some frequency so the FBI has special resources,” Kaplan said, according to the Gazette.
“We deal with local resources, sometimes we talk with specialists and generally the family is part of that resource, and the most useful, because they let us know what the child may respond to.”
Authorities have urged anyone with information to call the police department’s tip line at 704-869-1075.