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."

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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.

Cases: 312712

Reported Deaths: 7223
CountyCasesDeaths
DeSoto21445257
Hinds20264414
Harrison17785308
Rankin13548278
Jackson13401246
Madison10055217
Lee9959173
Jones8361163
Forrest7638152
Lauderdale7191240
Lowndes6361144
Lamar620686
Lafayette6164118
Washington5318133
Bolivar4796132
Oktibbeha460698
Panola4550105
Pearl River4493145
Marshall4393103
Warren4371121
Pontotoc419372
Monroe4089133
Union408876
Neshoba4022176
Lincoln3944110
Hancock376886
Leflore3487125
Sunflower335590
Tate332084
Pike3290105
Scott314973
Alcorn311268
Yazoo310269
Itawamba299277
Copiah296065
Coahoma293979
Simpson293888
Tippah287468
Prentiss278960
Marion268780
Leake265573
Wayne262241
Adams261882
Grenada260085
Covington256281
George246748
Newton246161
Winston226881
Tishomingo225467
Jasper220748
Attala214173
Chickasaw206957
Holmes188672
Clay184654
Stone181833
Clarke177879
Tallahatchie177840
Calhoun169732
Yalobusha162936
Smith162134
Walthall133845
Greene130333
Lawrence128323
Montgomery126742
Noxubee126734
Perry125838
Amite122842
Carroll121728
Webster114532
Jefferson Davis106932
Tunica104626
Claiborne102230
Benton99025
Humphreys96133
Kemper95328
Franklin83423
Quitman79916
Choctaw76018
Wilkinson66830
Jefferson65428
Sharkey50217
Issaquena1686
Unassigned00

Alabama Coronavirus Cases

Cases: 529446

Reported Deaths: 10930
CountyCasesDeaths
Jefferson763031516
Mobile40850804
Madison34622501
Tuscaloosa25701451
Montgomery24289585
Shelby23367247
Baldwin21035307
Lee15822169
Calhoun14469313
Morgan14266279
Etowah13806352
Marshall12185222
Houston10533280
Elmore10029205
Limestone9948150
Cullman9640193
St. Clair9589239
Lauderdale9407239
DeKalb8814185
Talladega8199175
Walker7214277
Autauga6914108
Jackson6801111
Blount6635136
Colbert6288134
Coffee5498117
Dale4820111
Russell438438
Chilton4258111
Franklin424782
Covington4111117
Tallapoosa4004150
Escambia393076
Chambers3555123
Dallas3543151
Clarke350661
Marion3105100
Pike310177
Lawrence299798
Winston273672
Bibb260463
Marengo249064
Geneva247676
Pickens233659
Barbour230756
Hale222276
Butler215869
Fayette212062
Henry188744
Cherokee184145
Randolph179241
Monroe177040
Washington167039
Macon158850
Clay155156
Crenshaw151957
Cleburne148341
Lamar141534
Lowndes138553
Wilcox126729
Bullock122941
Conecuh110129
Perry107526
Coosa106928
Sumter104332
Greene92334
Choctaw60424
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