'The investigation is not over': Officials to determine cause of boy's death

NORTH CAROLINA — After investigators announced they located the body believed to be 6-year-old Maddox Ritch, there is still work to be done to determine his cause of death.

According to our Cox Media Group sister station WSOC-TV in Charlotte, the six-day search seemingly ended Thursday when the body believed to be Ritch was found in a creek about a mile from Rankin Lake Park in Gastonia.

Police said at about 1 p.m. search crews discovered the body off Marietta Street and Old Dallas Highway.

Maddox Ritch was last seen at Rankin Lake Park in Gastonia, North Carolina, at 1:30 p.m. Saturday. Search and rescue boats were sent to the lake at the park.

"There is no sense of accomplishment here today,” said FBI Special Agent Jason Kaplan. “There's grieving down at our command post. I'd also like to say that the investigation is not over.”

Crews found the body partially under water in Long Creek, which is an area they’ve search all week.

"There's a lot of people that have lost a lot of sleep and are committed to continuing to making sure we answer every question that we can about where Maddox was, how his movement occurred and how it was he ended up where he did,” Kaplan said.

Officials had blocked off the area near Robinson-Clemmer Road and Old Dallas Highway.

Gastonia's Police Chief said the search for Maddox was the biggest response he's seen in his 32 years in law enforcement.

Police said identification of the body will be done by the medical examiner’s office.

Detectives aren’t sure how Maddox died, but said there are many indicators that Maddox was in the park when he disappeared.

"We've had some answers to the questions we've been asking for a long time,” Kaplan said. “There are so many unsettled answered.”

Detectives say they are focused on talking to people who were at the park on Saturday.

"Retrace all the steps,” Kaplan said. “Retrace that creek bed, and look, so we can find maybe where he entered down there at the water.”

Investigators hope to have answers into the cause of Maddox’s death.


"What was the cause of death? Was there any crime that was committed or are we simply looking at an accident?” Kaplan said. “Those are very difficult questions to answer, but those are questions we will answer."

In a news conference on Thursday, Gastonia Police Chief Robert Helton broke down into tears while giving the tragic update.

"I'm heartbroken today. Our community is heartbroken. Our searchers, our investigators, this is not the end that we had hoped for," Helton said.

The Gastonia Fire Chief Phil Welch said a crew of 15 searchers found the body about a mile away from the park.

"The area we found Maddox in was about a mile east outside of the park in Long Creek. That area, I will assure you, had been searched numerous times. We used drones in that area, we used ATVs in that area, and foot patrol prior was in the area as recent as Tuesday."

Maddox's father, Ian Ritch, and a friend were with Maddox last Saturday at the Gastonia Park when Ian said his son decided to take off and got too far away from him.

Earlier in the week, Ian Ritch called the days since Maddox's disappearance "torture."

“It’s torture. It’s torture,” Ian Ritch said. “I just want my little boy back home.”

Information from WSOC-TV was used in this report