Mother of Missing Boy with Autism Cries While Pleading for His Return: 'I Want My Baby Back'
Carrie Ritch just wants to hold her son again.
On Tuesday, the mother of Maddox Ritch — the 6-year-old boy who disappeared from a North Carolina park over the weekend — appeared at a press conference where she pleaded for help locating her child.
“I just want my baby home, please,” Carrie said. “Whatever you can do. Maddox is my whole world, and my reason for living. He’s momma’s boy.”
“I want my baby back in my arms,” she added.
Maddox, who has autism and limited verbal skills, 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. Maddox hasn’t been seen since, and more than a dozen law enforcement agencies and have launched a days-long search to find the little boy.
“If you were at the park Saturday and saw Maddox, please, urgently, please, call the tip line, please,” Carrie said on Tuesday. “Maddox loves the park. He loves bouncy balls and he loves his teddy bear. His smile is so contagious and his laughter so precious. If you think that you have seen Maddox, please reach out to police.”
A $10,000 reward is being offered for Maddox’s recovery.
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.
In a Facebook post on Monday, Carrie wrote that authorities are doing all they can to find her son.
“My main focus is bringing him home,” she said. “Thank you all for your love and support. I am completely heartbroken. I need him home. I want him in my arms. I want to see his smile and hear his precious laughter. I know God is with him protecting him.”
Meanwhile, Maddox’s father Ian Ritch told PEOPLE on Tuesday that he’s overcome with guilt, wishing he had done things differently.
“These past few days have been hell for me. I’m so broken. I’m heartbroken,” Ian, 42, of Concord, said. “Every time it gets dark at night I burst into tears because I’m thinking, ‘My little boy is out there alone.’ The longer [the search is] going the harder it gets because I’m so worried. He hasn’t had anything to eat or drink.”
Ian explained that he and his friend were walking with Maddox near the lake when the playful boy took off running behind a jogger. It’s common for Maddox to run around, so Ian allowed the boy to jog ahead for fun. 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.
“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,” the grieving father said. “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.”
Park staff helped Ian search the area before calling police. Carrie was “hysterical” when he broke the news to her over the phone, he claimed.
Both Ian and Carrie are cooperating with police in the investigation, city officials confirmed to PEOPLE.
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 Maddox was abducted or is simply lost.
“I was thinking he was lost in the woods, now I’m not so sure,” Ian told PEOPLE. “They’ve been looking for days and haven’t found anything. I’m starting to worry. It’s been too long. They had so many search and rescue [teams] that they should have found him by now.”
Anyone with information about Ian’s whereabouts are urged to call the police department’s tip line at 704-869-1075.