Crime & Courts

Search continues for 6-year-old who vanished from park near Charlotte on Saturday

Members of law enforcement searched the area in Gastonia where Maddox Ritch, 6, was last seen. The Gastonia Police SWAT team searched dumpsters by hand, according to the FBI’s Charlotte office.
Members of law enforcement searched the area in Gastonia where Maddox Ritch, 6, was last seen. The Gastonia Police SWAT team searched dumpsters by hand, according to the FBI’s Charlotte office. Federal Bureau of Investigation photo

The search continues for a 6-year-old with autism who went missing from a Gastonia park on Saturday, members of law enforcement said Monday afternoon.

The search area widened by two miles on Monday, and officials used dogs, all-terrain vehicles and a drone to comb the area where Maddox Ritch was last seen, according to a press release from Gastonia police.

Maddox has special needs and does not talk, officials said. He’s blond and blue-eyed and was wearing an orange T-shirt that said “I am the man,” black shorts with a white stripe and closed-toe sandals, according to the FBI’s missing person poster.

He was visiting Rankin Lake Park on Saturday when he went missing, and officials are searching the lake itself as well as the surrounding area. They plan to drain some water from the lake to expose the shoreline, the Observer’s news partner WBTV reported. Dogs will reexamine the drained area.

Members of the Gastonia SWAT team went through dozens of dumpsters by hand, police said, and officials went to businesses that had been closed during the weekend to find out if they had any helpful surveillance video.

Maddox’s parents recorded audio messages for him, WBTV reported, and the messages are being played during the search in case Maddox hears them.

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Authorities will not identify Maddox’s parents or describe their relationship, WBTV reported. Both parents have been cooperative, officials said. The child was reportedly visiting the park with his father and another adult, who has not been identified.

Asked whether Maddox’s father is a suspect, the Gastonia police chief said officials are examining all possibilities, WCCB reported .

Agencies involved with the search are trying to talk to every person who visited the park on Saturday, according to Monday’s press release. They can call the tip line at 704-869-1075.

On Monday evening, Gastonia police announced that investigators communicated with the North Carolina Center for Missing Persons, which issues Amber Alerts for missing children.

Based on the investigation so far, Maddox’ case does not meet the criteria for an Amber Alert, Gastonia police said. Alerts are not issued for children who have run away or for children believed to be with a parent, unless they’re in danger, according to the North Carolina Center for Missing Persons.

Jane Wester: 704-358-5128, @janewester
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