As FBI offers $10,000 reward, missing autistic boy's father blames himself

The father who lost track of his autistic son during a visit to a Gastonia, North Carolina, park said Wednes...

Posted: Sep 27, 2018 10:59 AM
Updated: Sep 27, 2018 10:59 AM

The father who lost track of his autistic son during a visit to a Gastonia, North Carolina, park said Wednesday he's overwhelmed with guilt as the search for the boy enters day five.

"Everybody looks at you as a monster, and I regretted it since the moment it happened," Ian Ritch told "Good Morning America."

Autism

Crime, law enforcement and corrections

Developmental disabilities

Diseases and disorders

Federal Bureau of Investigation

Government and public administration

Government bodies and offices

Government organizations - US

Health and medical

Missing persons

US Department of Justice

US federal departments and agencies

US federal government

Ritch said he had his eyes on young Maddox, but the 6-year-old suddenly dropped out of view Saturday. He wishes he'd never let him get so far away, he said. A police spokeswoman has said Maddox took off running during a walk around the lake.

"It's hard to sleep. I feel guilty because I can go to a house and lay down on the bed," the father said, "and he's out there in the woods sleeping on the ground and that's very upsetting."

The father's interview comes a day after Maddox's mother made a tearful plea at a press conference and the FBI announced a $10,000 reward for information that leads authorities to Maddox.

'I took off running after him'

Ritch later told reporters he and a friend were walking with Maddox when his son started running, likely triggered by a jogger who passed by.

"He initially took off, just a little ways, maybe 25, 30 feet from me, and then he went to a major sprint after that. And that's whenever I took off running after him," he said.

Ritch said his son likes the outdoors and he "was giving him just a little leeway, freedom."

He said his son often runs ahead of him, but would usually slow down and stop to give his father time to catch up.

"I couldn't catch up with him. I feel guilt for letting him get so far ahead of me before I started running after him," Ritch said.

Ritch said he has diabetes and neuropathy in his feet, which causes a tingling feeling or numbness, and has some trouble running.

Ritch said that the friend who was with them and some park staff members helped him look for Maddox before authorities were contacted. At that time, Ritch said, he was still optimistic.

"I felt like we could've found him and there was no reason to call the police until that time period. Then it got scary," he said.

Not being able to find Maddox has been "torture," Ritch said.

"I'm not eating. I'm not sleeping," he said. "I'm just worried about getting my little boy back."

'Continue praying for him'

Complicating the search is that Maddox is nonverbal. Hoping the youngster would reply to his parents' voices, police have pumped prerecorded messages into Rankin Lake Park, where the boy disappeared during a Saturday afternoon visit with his dad and an unidentified adult.

Chasing more than 150 leads, local, state and federal authorities have employed dogs, drones, sonar and infrared in the search for the boy. They've also partially drained the 80-acre lake so they can better see its shoreline. Gastonia SWAT teams have searched the lake and nearby waterways on kayaks.

Investigators have reached out to local businesses to see if they have any useful surveillance video, and Gastonia police Chief Robert Helton says police are looking to speak with an unidentified jogger who was in the park at the time and a photographer whom witnesses saw taking photos of children dressed in Dr. Seuss costumes.

"No piece of information is too small. Something you may think is insignificant could be helpful to our case," the chief has said.

On Tuesday, Carrie Ritch told reporters her son has a contagious smile and laugh. He loves the park, bouncy balls and his teddy bear. She urged anyone who might have seen Maddox to call authorities.

"Continue praying for him because I just want my baby home, please, whatever you can do," she said. "Maddox is my whole world and my reason for living. He's mama's boy."

Police said Maddox is 4 feet tall and weighs 45 pounds. He has blond hair and blue eyes. Maddox was last seen wearing an orange T-shirt with the words "I am the man," along with black shorts and closed-toe sandals.

There were many children in the park Saturday, including other blond boys wearing orange T-shirts, Helton said.

Mississippi Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Confirmed Cases: 16769

Reported Deaths: 803
CountyConfirmedDeaths
Hinds110426
Madison77829
Lauderdale76569
Neshoba73945
Jones70933
Scott66312
Forrest60039
DeSoto59310
Rankin4639
Leake45512
Holmes44431
Copiah3344
Jackson31415
Attala31218
Yazoo2985
Newton2924
Oktibbeha28314
Leflore28238
Lincoln28131
Wayne2803
Monroe26925
Harrison2687
Lamar2525
Lowndes2529
Pearl River21231
Pike20411
Adams20416
Warren19910
Washington1998
Lee1978
Noxubee1956
Covington1832
Bolivar16911
Jasper1684
Clarke15619
Smith15611
Lafayette1564
Kemper15611
Chickasaw14314
Coahoma1324
Clay1254
Winston1241
Carroll11911
Marion1169
Claiborne1165
Yalobusha1116
Grenada1104
Lawrence1071
Simpson1050
Sunflower963
Tate931
Hancock9012
Marshall893
Union897
Itawamba897
Webster885
Panola873
Wilkinson859
Montgomery841
Jefferson Davis823
Tippah7611
Calhoun684
Walthall670
Amite651
Humphreys647
Tunica583
Prentiss533
Choctaw522
Perry513
Pontotoc493
Jefferson421
Tishomingo360
Stone320
Quitman320
Tallahatchie311
Greene301
George302
Franklin292
Alcorn191
Benton140
Sharkey70
Unassigned00

Alabama Coronavirus Cases

Confirmed Cases: 19387

Reported Deaths: 676
CountyConfirmedDeaths
Mobile2341123
Jefferson1927105
Montgomery190544
Tuscaloosa85316
Marshall7149
Franklin5939
Lee56334
Shelby53619
Tallapoosa43566
Butler43121
Walker3973
Elmore38110
Chambers36326
Madison3594
Unassigned3144
Morgan3141
Baldwin2969
Dallas2963
Lowndes26912
Etowah26512
DeKalb2603
Autauga2485
Coffee2401
Sumter2369
Houston2275
Pike2231
Bullock2197
Colbert1972
Hale19210
Russell1870
Barbour1831
Marengo1796
Lauderdale1752
Calhoun1693
Cullman1631
Wilcox1587
Choctaw15310
Clarke1492
St. Clair1372
Randolph1288
Dale1250
Marion12511
Talladega1215
Pickens1215
Limestone1100
Chilton1081
Greene955
Macon944
Winston920
Jackson863
Henry842
Covington831
Crenshaw803
Escambia793
Bibb761
Washington746
Blount641
Lawrence510
Monroe492
Geneva450
Perry430
Conecuh421
Coosa401
Cherokee383
Clay282
Lamar280
Fayette160
Cleburne151
Tupelo
Scattered Clouds
78° wxIcon
Hi: 90° Lo: 71°
Feels Like: 80°
Columbus
Clear
75° wxIcon
Hi: 90° Lo: 71°
Feels Like: 75°
Oxford
Few Clouds
72° wxIcon
Hi: 89° Lo: 68°
Feels Like: 72°
Starkville
Clear
72° wxIcon
Hi: 87° Lo: 67°
Feels Like: 72°
WTVA Radar
WTVA Temperatures
WTVA Severe Weather