Crews search for 6-year-old boy with autism who vanished from NC park

A missing person poster for Maddox Ritch said he was last seen at Rankin Lake Park in Gastonia.
A missing person poster for Maddox Ritch said he was last seen at Rankin Lake Park in Gastonia. Gastonia Police Department

Emergency crews searched the area surrounding a North Carolina lake on Saturday and Sunday for a 6-year-old boy with special needs.

Maddox Ritch wandered off while walking around Rankin Lake in Gastonia with his family at about 1:30 p.m. Saturday, the Gaston Gazette reported. Rankin Lake Park is off U.S. 321.

Dozens of agencies are helping with the investigation, which includes interviewing people as well as searching the park and the lake for Maddox, Gastonia police said in a press release.

A specialized team from the FBI arrived in the area late Saturday night, according to a 6 p.m. Sunday press release from Gastonia police.

The park was closed to the public Sunday, and in the press release, Gastonia Police Chief Robert Helton asked people to stay away from the area unless they’re involved with the official search.

The search area includes neighborhoods near the park, police said. The Gastonia police chief asked people to check their property, including sheds and garages, as part of the search, according to the press release.

On Sunday, searchers were canvassing local homes and businesses to see if anyone had seen Maddox, WBTV reported. The police chief also asked people who were at the park Saturday to reach out to police, especially if they took pictures or video while they were there, according to the press release.

“We know a lot of people were in the park yesterday and we have spoken to many of them, but we have not spoken to all of them,” Helton said in a statement. “No piece of information is too small. Something you may think is insignificant could be helpful to our case.”

Maddox has blond hair and blue eyes and was wearing an orange “I am the man” T-shirt on, according to a missing person poster tweeted by the Gastonia Police Department.

He has autism and does not speak, Gastonia police said in a press release.

Anyone with information about Maddox’s location can call 704-869-1075, according to Gastonia police.

Joe Marusak: 704-358-5067; @jmarusak