Federal agents now involved in search for Maddox Ritch, missing North Carolina 6-year-old with special needs


Maddox Ritch (WSOC)

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GASTONIA, N.C. – The Gastonia police chief says every second counts in the case of a missing child with special needs.

Chief Robert Helton told WSOC their goal is to bring 6-year-old Maddox Ritch home safe and sound.

Now, more than a dozen local, state and federal agencies are involved, including the FBI.

Search dogs are roaming around the area near Rankin Lake, where Maddox was last seen.

Search boats are checking the lake with divers and sonar devices, while family members have been interviewed and are cooperating.

Police are asking anyone who may have been at Rankin Lake Park on Saturday and saw Maddox, especially if they have pictures or videos, to call police.

“We’re going to explore all possibilities, including abduction, but we’re also going to make sure we search every inch of land around here to make sure that he’s not simply lost,” said FBI Special Agent Jason Kaplan.

The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children is also assisting.

Emergency responders continued the massive search at the Gastonia park Sunday morning.

Maddox was last seen at the park at 1:30 p.m. Saturday.

He was last seen wearing an orange T-shirt with “I’m the man” on the front. Maddox is 4 feet tall and weighs 45 pounds. He has blond hair and blue eyes.

Maddox was last seen with his father and another adult.

“They were walking around the lake,” Gastonia spokeswoman Rachel Bagley said. “They got around to the back side of the lake. He started running, according to the parents, and when they started running after him, they lost sight of him, and no one has seen him ever since.”

The Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department’s helicopter suspended its search after sunset Saturday.

The city confirmed crews are reviewing surveillance video at the park. Crews worked through the night searching on foot and with search dogs.

Officials said hundreds of volunteers assisted in the search on Sunday.

Gastonia police said additional search units from around the region have joined the search. They said hundreds of law enforcement, search and rescue teams, and state and federal authorities are now involved.

Police said they are receiving assistance from the Gastonia Police, Gaston County Sheriff’s Department, Gaston County Emergency Management, Gaston County Police, Gastonia and Gaston County Fire Departments, Lincoln County Sheriff’s Department, Lincolnton Fire, Charlotte Fire, Stanley Rescue, Lincoln County Land Search team, Spartanburg County Search and Rescue and Search and Rescue Dog Assistance, and Central Carolina K-9 Search Team.

All activities at Rankin Lake Park have been canceled for Sunday. The park will be closed until further notice.

Police want the public to stay away from the area surrounding the park as they continue their search in the surrounding neighborhoods and areas.

Anyone with any information on Maddox’s whereabouts can call (704) 869-1075 or 911.

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