'I should’ve caught him': Father of missing autistic boy blames himself for son's disappearance from park as search continues
Six-year-old Maddox Ritch has been missing since last Saturday, and there is still no clue as to his whereabouts
It was previously reported the FBI would be joining the hunt for missing autistic, and non-verbal, six-year-old boy, Maddox Ritch, who went missing on the afternoon of September 22. Nearly a week later, there's little in the way of updates towards the boy's whereabouts.
Maddox disappeared from his father, Ian Ritch's side at around 1:30 pm at Rankin Lake Park in Gastonia, North Carolina, and has not been seen since. Commenting on the incident, Gastonia Police 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."
Now, for the first time, Ian has publicly spoken about the case himself. "It's been torture. I'm not eating, not sleeping I'm just worried about getting my little boy back," he told CBS News. He said he, along with his girlfriend, had taken Maddox to the park, which has a track and a lake, and that the six-year-old had started running.
"A jogger passed by and as he was jogging past us," Ian said, "that's when Maddox started to jog out behind him. We got so far, he took off from me, running ... and I just never could catch up with him."
"He can run, he can run. I couldn't keep up with him. Not that fast," he added. "I feel like I should’ve caught him, not let him get too far," Ian said. "That’s what upsets me."
"I feel guilty because I can go to a house and lay down on the bed," Ian told 'Good Morning America'. "And he's out there in the woods sleeping on the ground and that’s very upsetting."
Unsurprisingly, several netizens expressed doubt about Ian's version of events, wondering how a grown man could not catch up with a six-year-old. However, Ian happens to have neuropathy in his feet, caused by diabetes, and finds it difficult to run.
"I thought he might have got lost in the woods. After all this time, it's giving me doubts. It makes me wonder if somebody got him in the parking lot," he said, adding that he had never done anything to hurt his son. FBI agent Jason Kaplan said the six-year-old's parents were cooperating with the agency's investigation and that they were "confident that a lot of information they provided to us is accurate."
Following Maddox's disappearance, more than 100 volunteers combed 1,400 acres in and around the Rankin Lake Park Area to search for him, with more than two dozen search and rescue and emergency management teams also joining the search. The Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department sent its helicopter to assist efforts through aerial searches and used infrared technology once it got dark outside.
The Charlotte Fire Department was also assisting in the search by sending out teams to comb the water in the lake. The water from the lake is yet to be drained, but the authorities are said to be on the lookout for a person who was seen wearing a camouflage hat and taking a silver kayak out of the lake at the time the six-year-old went missing.