GASTON COUNTY, NC (FOX 46 WJZY) - Search crews have discovered a body believed to be missing 6-year-old Maddox Ritch off of Marietta Street and Old Dallas Highway in Gastonia, according to the Gastonia Police Department.
The body was found around 1 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 27 authorities said. Maddox's parents have been notified of the discovery by law enforcement.
Identification of the body will be done by the medical examiner's office.
Authorities held a news conference around 4 p.m. Thursday where they said that the body of who they believe to be Maddox Ritch was found partially submerged in Long Creek. They would not go into details on the condition of the body other than that it was "camouflaged."
A crew of 15 people had been searching in the area of Long Creek, about a mile away from Rankin Lake Park where Maddox Ritch was first reported missing, when a rescuer walking down the middle of the creek observed the body.
Gastonia police said they had searched this stretch of land many times before, but were retracing their steps because they believed Maddox could have been moving around as time passed.
The FBI's Underwater Search and Evidence Response Team was in the water at Rankin Lake Park Thursday morning as part of their continuing search efforts to find Maddox.
This special team had different sonar equipment that had been used in previous searches and they have specialized training to locate even the smallest possible piece of evidence underwater.
NC Emergency Management teams broadened their search area deeper into the marshlands and further east and north through the dense woods surrounding the park Thursday.
Ian Ritch, Maddox's father, said he and his son, along with a friend whose name has not been released, were making their first visit Saturday to the 242-acre park.
According to Ritch, Maddox was about 25 feet to 30 feet (7 meters to 9 meters) away before he broke into a sprint just as a jogger passed them. The father said he is a diabetic and because he has neuropathy in his feet, he has trouble running.
"He likes running," Ritch said. "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 the boy looked back at him and laughed, adding that he would slow down and then speed up again. With the help of the friend, Ritch searched for his son but couldn't find him. Park personnel also joined in the search but didn't see Maddox, either. After an hour, Ritch called 911, saying he delayed that call because he thought he would find his son and there was no reason to call police.
"I just want my little boy back home. I want to know he's safe. I want to give him a big hug as soon as I see him," he added. "I just want to know he's safe."
The FBI was offering a $10,000 reward for information that will help them find Maddox. Investigators also warned against spreading false rumors.