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Search for missing boy with autism continues; $10,000 reward offered

Maddox Ritch. (Gastonia Police Department)

GASTONIA, N.C. (WLOS) - The FBI has joined a massive search for a missing 6-year-old boy with autism, who vanished on a park trip with his father over the weekend in Gastonia.

Maddox Ritch, who is described as nonverbal, was last seen Saturday at Rankin Lake Park around 1:30 p.m.. He was wearing an orange T-shirt with "I am the man" on it and black shorts. The Gaston Gazette reports the boy wandered off while walking around the lake with his family.

"They were walking around the lake," Rachel Bagley, a spokeswoman for the city of Gastonia, told Charlotte, North Carolina, ABC affiliate WSOC. "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."

On Monday, it was announced the FBI was joining more than two dozen local and state law enforcement agencies in the search for Maddox.

More than two dozen local, state and federal agencies are assisting the Gastonia Police Department with investigative and search and rescue resources, the FBI said on its website. Those resources include the FBI’s Child Abduction Rapid Deployment (CARD) team. The CARD team consists of a group of highly trained and experienced subject-matter experts in missing children investigations. They deploy all over the country when a child is reported missing.

A “missing” poster of Maddox has been added to the FBI’s website and social media accounts. A link to the poster can be found here.

Monday, the boy's mother, Carrie Ritch, spoke at a news conference with law enforcement and fire officials. She pleaded for the public to help find her little boy, asking anyone who saw him to come forward.

“I just want my baby home,” she said.

Law enforcement and fire officials talked about the ongoing search. The FBI announced a $10,000 reward for information that leads to Maddox and asked people on social media or other groups not to spread false rumors.

National media report the FBI is using audio tapes of his parents' voices in the area, playing the recorded messages in the woods of the park, in hopes that their voices will persuade the boy to come out if he's there.

On Monday, authorities said they were checking dozens of dumpsters, visiting businesses near the park in hopes of finding helpful surveillance video, and researching the scene with police dogs.

At a news conference Monday, authorities said Maddox's mother and father have asked for privacy and their names have not been released.

Rankin Lake Park will remain closed to the public until further notice. Gastonia Police Department said on its Facebook page that search crews will patrol overnight on foot and ATVs, searching for the missing 6-year-old. Drones will also continue their work in the coming hours, the statement said. Investigators have gotten additional tip calls since the news conference Tuesday afternoon from individuals who were at the park on Saturday.

Anyone with information is asked to call the police department’s special tip line at 704-869-1075.

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