Maddox Ritch was at the park in Gastonia the day he went missing, police confirm

GASTONIA, N.C. -- Gastonia police have confirmed that 6-year-old Maddox Ritch was, in fact, at Rankin Lake Park the day he went missing, police announced Wednesday.

More than 65 federal, state and local agencies lent a hand to Gastonia police to investigate the boy's disappearance and, thanks to public help, they were able to create a timeline of events.

This confirmation verifies, in part, the father's account of what happened.

Maddox's cause of death, however, remains an unanswered question.

Police have still not determined how the boy died and are waiting on an autopsy of the boy's body.

The Medical Examiner's Office confirmed the identity on Oct. 1, four days after the body was found in a creek near Rankin Lake Park, according the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

“We are deeply saddened to learn the body found by searchers Thursday is confirmed to be Maddox Ritch,” Gastonia Police Chief Robert Helton said, according to the Federal Bureau of Investigation Charlotte. “Hundreds of people searched tirelessly for this child and our work continues to answer every question we can about his tragic death.”

Ian Ritch, Maddox's father, said he and his son frequently walked in Rankin Lake Park. That's where they were  on Sept. 22, he said. Ritch said his son often ran ahead of him, and then would slow down and wait for him to catch up.

But on that Saturday, the boy, who has autism and is nonverbal, ran too far ahead, and Ian Ritch lost sight of him.

Ian said he "started panicking."

"We were walking on a track around the lake and he decided to take off from me. ... I didn’t think nothing of it and he got a little too far away from me," Ian Ritch told "Good Morning America" Wednesday. "As soon as I got to the point where I couldn’t see him anymore, I started panicking. I couldn’t see him anywhere."

The FBI and numerous other agencies were searching for the boy ever since.

The funeral has since been planned for boy with the visitation set for 7 to 9 p.m. Thursday at Raymer-Kepner Funeral Home at 16901 Old Statesville Road in Huntersville, according to the obituary.

The funeral takes place at 11 a.m. Friday in the same funeral home’s chapel. The burial will be private.

“Maddox was a sweet and loving little boy who was full of laughter,” his obituary read, in part. “He loved Paw Patrol, his Teddy, playing with his bouncy balls, but above all he loved his mom and dad the most.”

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