Desperate hunt continues — Searching for Maddox

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The search for Maddox, who is nonverbal due to his autism, is intensifying. But the park worker who called to report the child missing says he doesn't think Maddox was even there.

Maddox, a 6-year-old autistic boy who doesn't speak, reportedly vanished from the Gastonia area park on Saturday. Maddox was about 25 to 30 feet away when he broke into a sprint, Ritch said. He just made a decision to take off from me and I let him go a little bit because he likes running so I didn't think nothing of it. Ritch says Maddox ran away, "and I just never could catch up with him", adding that diabetes-related neuropathy in his feet makes it hard for him to run. I truly appreciate everything everyone did to find him. "He just got a little too far away from me before I could catch up to him".

The boy's father said his son, Maddox Ritch, disappeared Saturday as they were walking in the park. The boy was there with his father, Ian Ritch, and his father's friend. "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". He said once he couldn't see his son, he got scared.

"This is the end we hoped we wouldn't find", Gastonia police chief Robert Helton said.

The area in which Maddox's body was found had been searched "numerous times", including by drones, ATV teams and foot patrols, Gastonia Fire Chief Phil Welch said. Officers say they want to make sure searchers employ every available tool to search the lake.

"Maddox is described as 4'0" tall, weighing 45 pounds with blonde hair. "As soon as I got to the point where I couldn't see him anymore, I started panicking". They partially drained the 80-acre lake so they could better see its shoreline.

Anyone with any information on the little boy's whereabouts should call Gastonia police at 704-869-1075.

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"He likes running, ' Ritch said of his son". He loves the park, bouncy balls and his teddy bear, she said.

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"I just want my baby home, please, whatever you can do."

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"Maddox is my whole world and my reason for living", she tearfully said in a news conference. "That's plain and simple", Ritch told CBS News, adding that he has cooperated with investigators.

At a news conference with the Federal Bureau of Investigation and Gastonia police on Wednesday, Ritch told reporters, "I'm not eating". "We do not want another hour to pass without finding this child and bringing him home". He added that they are looking for a man in a white pickup truck at the park.

The FBI offered a $10,000 reward for information, and on Thursday, officials expanded their search to include the marshlands and the woods nearby.

Investigators are still seeking to understand if criminality was involved or if Maddox's disappearance was an accident.

"If you took pictures or selfies or video, we ask that you preserve that", said Jason Kaplan, an FBI special agent assisting with the investigation.

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