- Six-year-old Maddox Scott Ritch went missing in Gastonia, North Carolina, on Saturday.
- The autistic boy, who is nonverbal, was last seen at Rankin Lake Park.
- He ran ahead of his father and an unidentified second adult and hasn’t been seen since, police said.
- Authorities have been using recordings of Maddox’s mother and father’s voices in the search.
The search for a missing autistic boy in North Carolina entered its fourth day Tuesday morning, as investigators grow increasingly desperate to find him.
Six-year-old Maddox Scott Ritch went missing on Saturday afternoon in a park in the city of Gastonia.
Maddox’s father says he lost track of Maddox at Rankin Lake Park in Gastonia while on a visit there at the weekend.
A spokesman for Gastonia police said that Maddox, whose autism is severe enough that he does not speak, started running through the park and managed to get out of his father’s sight.
The identity of Maddox’s father has not been made public, nor has that of another adult who was with them at the time.
Describing the incident, police spokesman Rachel Bagley told the WSOC news channel: “They were walking around the lake. They got around to the back side of the lake. He started running… and when they started running after him, they lost sight of him, and no one has seen him ever since.”
Maddox is non-verbal and was last seen wearing a t-shirt with the words “I’m the man” on it, and sandals. He is described as being four feet tall and 45 pounds, with blond hair and blue eyes.
Since he went missing, authorities have closed the park to search for him around the clock. They have partially drained the lake to expose the shoreline better, while boats search from the surface. Drones and helicopters have search from the air.
Teams have been looking through the park’s wooded areas and going through nearby dumpsters as well.
As of Monday, local authorities have received at least 80 tips regarding Maddox’s disappearance and they say they will investigate them all. The FBI’s Charlotte office is also involved.
Search teams have been using recordings of Maddox’s mother and father’s voices in the hunt for the boy, and they hold out hope that they might still find him alive.
“We still want to do everything possible to find Maddox and we’re hopeful that we’ll be able to do that,” FBI Supervisory Special Agent Jason Kaplan told WCCB.
Some in the community appear to be suspicious that the boy’s parents have not been named.
During a Monday news conference, a local minister asked why the boy’s parents had not spoken out publicly.
An FBI spokesman replied that the parents have asked for privacy and they are trying to respect that. He also cautioned against judging how a parent would deal with a missing child.
Officials say the family has been interviewed and are cooperating. However, when asked whether the father is a suspect, Gastonia Police Chief Rob Helton refused to rule it out, saying “we’re looking at all possibilities.”
Authorities are asking anyone who was at the park on Saturday and may have seen Maddox to call 704-869-1075.
“No piece of information is too small,” Helton said. “Something that you may think is insignificant can help us.”
Locals are also being asked to search their own properties for the boy.
“If you have a shed, barn, wooded area, go take a look and call us immediately if you find anything out of the ordinary,” Helton said.
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