The 6-year-old boy with autism was found dead after disappearing in a North Carolina park

By Emily Zauzmer
September 30, 2018 05:10 PM
Credit: Gastonia Police Department

Maddox Ritch, the 6-year-old boy who was found dead after disappearing in a North Carolina park, is being remembered as “sweet and loving” as his funeral plans are announced.

“Maddox was a sweet and loving little boy who was full of laughter,” his obituary reads. “He loved Paw Patrol, his Teddy, playing with his bouncy balls, but above all he loved his mom and dad the most.”

At Raymer-Kepner Funeral Home in Huntersville, North Carolina, Maddox’s visitation will be held on Thursday, Oct. 4 from 7 to 9 p.m., and his funeral will be held on Friday, Oct. 5 at 11 a.m., the obituary noted. A private burial will also take place.

In the funeral home’s guestbook, one well-wisher wrote, “Your beautiful spirit, smile and beautiful blue eyes left an impression on my life.”

Maddox Ritch
| Credit: Courtesy Ian Ritch

Maddox, who had autism and limited verbal skills, was walking with his father and another adult at Gastonia’s Rankin Lake Park on Sept. 22 when he took off running.

Maddox’s father Ian Ritch told PEOPLE on Tuesday, “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 continued, “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 and Maddox Ritch
| Credit: Courtesy Ian Ritch

More than a dozen law enforcement agencies, including FBI officials in Charlotte, searched for Maddox before his body was found in about two or three feet of water in Long Creek, just one mile east of Gastonia’s Rankin Lake Park, on Thursday. Gastonia police confirmed the news to PEOPLE in a statement.

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FBI agent Jason Kaplan said at a press conference that Maddox’s body was “camouflaged.” He explained, “It was extremely difficult to see him even when we were standing right next to him. He was in the creek, in water. Partially underwater.”

“Now im no heroe i couldnt save him or protect him at all,” his father wrote on Facebook. “I would give anything to go back and save him. … From this moment on for the rest of my life i will live with the guilt of not being there to save my son. The most important person in my life.”

The Mecklenberg County Medical Examiner’s office told PEOPLE earlier this week that the cause of death had yet to be determined.

FBI agent Jason Kaplan said Thursday it was “too early” to say whether foul play is suspected and an investigation is ongoing.

Maddox’s mother Carrie Ritch tearfully pleaded for his return at a press conference on Tuesday.

Carrie Ritch

“I just want my baby home, please,” she said. “Whatever you can do. Maddox is my whole world, and my reason for living. He’s momma’s boy.”

Maddox is survived by his parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles, according to his obituary.