Ian Ritch, father of the missing boy, said his son saw a jogger and took off running.
Wayne Howard Reporter
As the time since his disappearance grows longer, the hope for a happy outcome to the search for a missing Gastonia boy grows less likely. On Wednesday, olice released the 9-1-1 call that told them about his disappearance.
Maddox Scott Ritch is a six-year-old boy. He has blond hair, blue eyes, weighs 45 pounds, is 4 feet tall and was wearing an orange t-shirt with lettering reading “I'm the MAN,” black shorts, and closed toe sandals when he was reported missing Saturday afternoon (September 22nd).
The autistic child doesn't speak. He was at Rankin Lake Park off US321 just north of Interstate 85 in Gastonia when, according to his father, he took off running into the woods. The father and a friend pursued him but said they lost sight of him. A part-time park employee saw them looking and went to a nearby location and called police. That was almost an hour after he disappeared shortly after 1:30 Saturday afternoon.
Gastonia Police released the recording of the 9-1-1 call Wednesday. The call was received at 2:33 PM Saturday. (See link at bottom of this article.) Police responded and then called for help from other emergency personnel. Gastonia Police, Gaston County Police, officers from other nearby towns and counties. members of many fire departemnts, GEMS workers, and many other first responders searched the park through the night on Saturday, all day and night Sunday, again on Monday and Tuesday and Wednesday.
The search was expanded to an area two miles outside the park. The 80-acre lake in the 242-acre park was searched by boats using sonar. Dogs were used in the search as well as drones. After four days of searching, the child is still missing.
Police have investigated multiple leads, some of them feasible, others unlikely, but as one spokesman put it, "we don't know, so we have to check all of them out." The FBI joined in the search and at a Tuesday afternoon news conference, Jason Kaplan, supervisor of the FBI Charlotte office, announced that a $10,000 reward is now being offered for information that leads to finding the child.
The child's mother spoke at the Tuesday news conference. His father spoke at a news conference held Wednesday afternoon.
Gastonia Police Chief Robt. Helton said some 330 people had been involved in the search for the child and police either had investigated or were investigating over 250 leads. Helton said there are still people known to have been at the park on Saturday who haven't called their tip line. He said police were trying to contact those who had signed a boat log and those who had been at gatherings at picnic shelters.
Gastonis Fire Chief Phil Welch said Wednesday that the lake is being drained. Boats using sonar had not detected anything in their sweeps of the lake which began on Sunday.
Police asked again Wednesday that anyone who has any information that might be helpful call theie tip line. "We desperately need to hear from anyone who was in the park on Saturday," they said. The tip line number is 704-869-1075.