Missing North Carolina boy with autism wasn’t seen at park, worker who called 911 says

A worker at a park where a North Carolina boy with autism went missing nearly a week ago said Wednesday he never saw the 6-year-old in the area prior to his disappearance.

Rick Foxx, who called police last Saturday to report Maddox Ritch missing, told CBS News the boy’s father, Ian Ritch, and his friend, who has not been identified, didn’t seem concerned about the child. Ritch had told police his son, who has nonverbal autism, ran ahead of him and disappeared from his view while they were at Rankin Lake Park, about 20 miles west of Charlotte.

“It didn’t look as though, they were that concerned,” Foxx told CBS News, referring to the couple. “I’ve worked there almost three years and we see everybody come in and out of that park pretty much. I didn’t see that kid one time.”

Maddox Ritch was last seen on Saturday at Rankin Lake Park. (Gastonia Police Department)

Foxx also told WSOC-TV that Ritch seemed “out of breath” when he approached him asking for help. Foxx added that he went out to look for Maddox and contacted police when he couldn’t find the child.

“He didn’t act like a concerned parent, like I would act, or any concerned parent would act,” Foxx told the news station. “The mother [Carrie Ritch] was really frantic. She was hysterical. She got out of the car, and one of the sheriff’s deputies had to calm her.”

The 911 call released by police Wednesday showed a park employee telling the dispatcher that Maddox’s parents and officials “searched everywhere” for the child, FOX46 reported.

“The parents are out here looking,” the park employee is heard saying.

The FBI urged anyone with information on Maddox’s whereabouts and about the Saturday he disappeared is urged to call 704-869-1075. (FBI Charlotte)

The park remains closed Thursday as the search continued. The FBI dive team was deployed Thursday to search the lake that serves as a reservoir, as other officials searched the surrounding marshlands and woods.

Ritch on Wednesday said it has been “torture” watching the search for his son as officials entered the sixth day looking for Maddox.

“I’m not eating. I’m not sleeping,” Ritch said at a news conference with Gastonia police and the FBI. “I’m just worried about getting my little boy back. I thought after the first night, he would be fine.”

“I just want my little boy back home. I want to know he’s safe. I want to give him a big hug as soon as I see him,” he added. “I just want to know he’s safe.”

Ritch said he “couldn’t catch up” to his son when he ran ahead on Saturday, adding that he feels “guilt for letting him get so far ahead.”

Police said Maddox’s mother, father and the friend who was at the park were “fully cooperating with the investigation.”

Maddox is described as 4 feet, 45 pounds with blonde hair. He was last seen wearing an orange “I am the man” T-shirt and black shorts with a white stripe.

Anyone with information is asked to contact a special tip line established by Gastonia Police, 704-869-1075. The FBI announced a $10,000 reward for information leading to Maddox.

The Associated Press contributed to this report

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