Police offer update weeks after 6-year-old Gastonia boy found dead in creek

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GASTONIA, N.C. -- It's been three weeks since the body of Maddox Ritch was found in Long Creek, and police are still waiting for answers.

Gastonia police provided an update Thursday, explaining that they're still waiting for the medical examiner's reports that should provide the answers they're looking for.

Maddox's cause of death remains one of the last major unanswered questions.

“While we await those final medical examiner’s reports, which can take weeks or even months, our work continues to piece together his last movements,” said Chief Robert Heltonin an announcement Thursday. “We appreciate the continued support, patience, and understanding of our community."

Heltonin continued, "The Gastonia Police Department will do everything possible to learn the facts of what happened in the final moments of Maddox’s life."

The 6-year-old boy with autism was at Rankin Lake Park with his father and another person on Sept. 22 when the boy ran off, according to his dad.

Ian Ritch, his father, 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 began to search for him until a body was finally found on Sept. 27, five days after he went missing. Officials confirmed that the body belonged to Maddox on Oct. 1.

“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.”

As the investigation continued, Gastonia police have confirmed that 6-year-old Maddox Ritch was, in fact, at Rankin Lake Park the day he went missing in an Oct. 3 announcement.

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

More than 65 federal, state and local agencies lent a hand to Gastonia police in the investigation.

The visitation for Maddox took place on Oct. 4.  at Raymer-Kepner Funeral Home at 16901 Old Statesville Road in Huntersville, according to the obituary.

The funeral followed on Oct. 5 in the same funeral home’s chapel. The burial was 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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