- The parents of missing six-year-old boy Maddox Ritch broke their silence on Tuesday.
- The autistic boy, who is nonverbal, was last seen Saturday afternoon at a Gastonia, North Carolina, park with his father and another adult.
- Some locals were suspicious when the boy’s parents didn’t speak to the media or the public immediately after their son’s disappearance.
- That changed Tuesday when mum Carrie spoke at a press conference, pleading for the public’s help in finding her son, and dad Ian gave interviews with the press.
The parents of a missing autistic boy broke their silence on Tuesday, speaking to the public and media for the first time their son, six-year-old Maddox Ritch, went missing on Saturday.
At an emotional press conference Tuesday afternoon, Maddox’s mother, Carrie Ritch, pleaded with the public to pass along any information they have that might be helpful to police.
Meanwhile Ian Ritch, Maddox’s father, spoke to the media separately.
Maddox, who is nonverbal, was walking around the lake with his father and another adult, who has not been identified.
Police say he ran ahead of the adults and disappeared from view. He hasn’t been seen since.
“If you were at the park Saturday and saw Maddox … please, urgently, please call the tip line,” Carrie Ritch said. “I want my baby back in my arms.”
She added through tears: “Maddox is my whole world and my reason for living.”
Some locals had questioned why Carrie and Ian Ritch didn’t speak out in the immediate aftermath of their son’s disappearance at Rankin Lake Park in Gastonia, North Carolina Saturday afternoon.
He said he and his son often go to the park. Ritch said that, like many kids, Maddox likes to run ahead, but this time he didn’t stop and wait for him to catch up.
Ritch said he and a friend took Maddox to the park Saturday afternoon, and his son started to sprint ahead to chase after a male jogger. The jogger is someone police are still trying to track down to interview, in addition to a photographer who was seen taking pictures of kids at the park.
Ian Ritch says he started to panic when his son disappeared form view.
“We were walking on a track around the lake and he decided to take off from me. … I didn’t think nothing of it and he got a little too far away from me,” he told ABC News on Wednesday. “As soon as I got to the point where I couldn’t see him anymore, I started panicking. I couldn’t see him anywhere.”
He says he’s been racked with guilt for letting his son get so far ahead of him.
“I feel like I should have caught him, not let him get too far,” Ritch said. “That’s what upsets me.”
Ritch said that at first he was convinced that his son had simply gotten lost, but he says he’s not so sure now that his son has been gone for five days.
“They have 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,” he said.
On Tuesday, Ritch helped investigators retrace his steps in the park.
Officials say both parents have been interviewed and are cooperating. When asked on Monday whether Ian Ritch was was a suspect, Gastonia Police Chief Robert Helton said they were “looking at all possibilities.”
Ian Ritch is aware that people have become suspicious of him.
“People are making it out like I did something to him,” he told PEOPLE. “I would never hurt my little boy. I love him to death and I just want him back. I’ve been feeling the blame since this happened. I just wish I would have caught him before he got too far away from me. It’s broken my heart to think that I just let him get too far away.”
Teams have searched the 250-acre park every day since Maddox has disappeared. They have drained the lake by four feet, sent drones into the air to search from above and had officers look through nearby dumpsters. They have also searched a local landfill and a neighbouring renewable energy facility, to no avail.
FBI supervisory agent Jason Kaplan said they are still trying to work out where Maddox is simply lost or was abducted.
The FBI is offering a reward of $US10,000 for information leading to his location.
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