A little boy with autism went missing after he took a walk with his family on Saturday — and the child’s father blames himself for the disappearance.
Maddox Ritch, age six (pictured above), was last seen at Rankin Lake Park in Gastonia, about 20 miles west of Charlotte, North Carolina, with his father, Ian Ritch, and two other adults, as Fox News reported.
Investigators said the boy is nonverbal, so they’ve been playing a message with his parents’ voices over loudspeakers, hoping to lure him out of the woods where he may be hiding, reported CBS News.
Maddox is described as four feet tall and weighing 45 pounds, and has blonde hair. He was last seen wearing an orange T-shirt with the words “I’m the man” written on it, noted Fox News.
Ian Ritch told “Good Morning America” on Wednesday that his son ran ahead of him, and then disappeared from his view.
“We were walking on a track around the lake and he decided to take off from me … He got a little too far away from me,” Ian Ritch said in an interview (see video at end of this article).
“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 also said, “I feel like I should’ve caught him, not let him get too far. That’s what upsets me. It’s hard to sleep. I feel guilty because I can go to a house and lie down on the bed. And he’s out there in the woods, sleeping on the ground, and that’s very upsetting.”
On Tuesday, Maddox’s mother, Carrie, gave an emotional plea for help, said Fox News.
“I would appreciate it if you were at the park Saturday and saw Maddox to please … call the tip line. Please … I just want my baby home, please,” the devastated mother said.
“Maddox is my whole world and my reason for living.”
Help the #FBI & @GPDNC #FindMaddox Ritch who was last seen at Rankin Lake Park in Gastonia, NC, on September 22, 2018, wearing an orange t-shirt with writing "I am the man" & black shorts. Call the tip line at 704-869-1075 if you have any information to help. pic.twitter.com/MrbuPeSCZz
— FBI Charlotte (@FBICharlotte) September 25, 2018
The FBI is urging anyone with information on Maddox’s whereabouts — or with any information about the Saturday he disappeared — to call the Charlotte, North Carolina, FBI at 704-869-1075.
The FBI also announced Tuesday it’s offering a $10,000 reward for any information leading to Maddox’s return.
A search dog from the @MissingKids inside drainage pipes. We are searching everywhere possible to #FindMaddox. Call the @GPDNC tip line! We desperately need to hear from those in the park on Saturday. 704-869-1075. pic.twitter.com/A66XksUEhC
— FBI Charlotte (@FBICharlotte) September 26, 2018
The 911 call released by police Wednesday showed a park employee telling the dispatcher that the boy’s parents and officials “searched everywhere” for the child, FOX46 reported.
“The parents are out here, looking,” the park employee can be heard saying.
See more on this story in the video below.