FBI: We need to hear from more witnesses in Maddox Ritch investigation
Author: WCNC Staff
Published: 9:03 AM EDT September 29, 2018
Updated: 9:05 PM EDT October 3, 2018

GASTONIA, N.C. -- As the nation mourns the tragic end in the search for Maddox Ritch, authorities are investigating how the body believed to be the missing boy ended up in Long Creek.

Almost two weeks after investigators shut down the area, Rankin Lake Park reopened to the public on October 3.

In a Facebook post, Gastonia Police credited "all the public support and multiple investigative means" for helping detectives put together a timeline and confirm Maddox was at the park on the day he went missing.

The remains of the missing six-year-old with autism were found in a creek near Marietta Street and Old Dallas Highway in Gastonia around 1 p.m. on September 27.

Chief Robert Helton was emotional when delivering the news during a news conference.

"Our community is heartbroken," Chief Helton said. "This is not the end we had hoped for."

About 180 searchers came out to help find the missing boy that day, according to Gastonia Fire Chief Phil Welch. Like Helton, Welch said it was a very sad day.

"There is no sense of accomplishment today," Welch said. "There's grieving."

TIMELINE: The disappearance of Maddox Ritch


FBI: We need to hear from more witnesses in Maddox Ritch investigation

Chapter 1

'Investigation is not over'

Investigators say they're still looking for witnesses as they wait for the autopsy results. Authorities hope they get a hold of joggers who were at the park on September 22, as well as a man who Chief Helton said may have been among the last to see Maddox Ritch.

"In a white pick-up truck," Chief Helton said. "I think it was a crew cab truck, had running boards loading a silver kayak out of the water. He had a camouflage hat on... So he was coming out of the water right around this time. We need to talk with him."

FBI Supervisor Jason Kaplan said it was too early in the investigation to know whether foul play factored into Maddox's disappearance.

"The investigation is not over," Kaplan said. "In law enforcement, we will not take anything for granted... a lot of people have lost sleep."

Kaplan added there were still many unanswered questions, and the public's help was needed to gather more information.

"We still want to hear from the others," Kaplan said. "Please call the tip line (704-869-1075)."

On September 26, Ian Ritch, the Maddox' father, took questions from reporters at the Greater Gaston Baptist Association in Gastonia. Ian said Maddox took off running in the opposite direction of him and his friend Saturday at Rankin Lake Park.

Sign up for the 5 Things to Know Newsletter

"He usually runs but will stop to give me a chance to pick him up," Ian said.

Ian said his son's disappearance left him sleepless for several days, and he hasn't eaten.

"I feel guilty for letting him get so far ahead of me," Ian said.

RELATED: TIMELINE: The disappearance of Maddox Ritch

Chapter 2

A community in grief

Sarah Shepherd, a mother of three children with special needs, followed the case closely; she's still stunned by the news.

"To hear and find out that this child has been found in this way, it's very heartbreaking," Shepherd said. "I just pray for the mom. I can't imagine what that mom is going through right now."

On the morning of September 27, Autism Charlotte's Valerie Iseah dropped off supplies for search teams.

"It hit me as a mom, initially," Iseah said. "When I heard the additional details that this child had autism, it was like the second shoe dropped when I heard that."

The Cabarrus County School District released a statement in response to the tragic news:

“We are deeply saddened by this news. This was not the outcome we had hoped and prayed for. We offer our sincere condolences to the Ritch Family. Our district’s focus at this time is to help our students and staff process their emotions and begin the healing process.”

Download the NBC Charlotte mobile app