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FBI joins search for missing 6-year-old special needs child in North Carolina

Six-year-old Maddox Ritch went missing from Rankin Lake Park in Gastonia, North Carolina, on Saturday. The FBI has joined more than two dozen other agencies in the search for the boy, who is autistic and non-verbal. (Image source: YouTube screenshot)

Six-year-old Maddox Scott Ritch went missing from Rankin Lake Park in Gastonia, North Carolina, on Saturday. On Monday, the FBI joined more than two dozen other agencies to search for the autistic little boy, who is described as non-verbal.

What are the details?

Maddox was with his father and another unnamed adult when he ran off into the 240-acre park — which includes a 20-acre lake — around 1:30 p.m.

"They were walking around the lake. They got around to the back side of the lake," Gastonia spokeswoman Rachel Bagley told WSOC-TV. "He started running, according to his parents, and when they started running after him, they lost sight of him, and no one has seen him since."

Speaking with USA Today, Gastonia Police Chief Robert Helton said the boy's family was working with authorities.

"We are all working around the clock with one goal in mind," he added, "and that is to find Maddox and to bring him home safely."

Helton added that "every second counts when a child is missing."

More than 100 people have searched more than 1,400 acres in and around the park on foot and with ATVs, with the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department scouring the area with a helicopter Sunday evening. Search dogs were deployed to sniff the area surrounding the lake on Sunday, while divers and boats with sonar devices combed the lake itself.

Helton made a plea to the public, saying, "If you were at Rankin Lake Park on Saturday and saw Maddox or took video or photos of their outing at the park, call us.

"We know a lot of people were in the park and we have spoken to many of them, but we have not spoken to everyone," Helton said. "No piece of information is too small. Something you may think is insignificant could be helpful to our case."

To those who live in the area, the chief asked them to assist, saying, "If you have a shed, barn, wooded area go take a look and call us immediately if you find anything out of the ordinary."

How does the FBI help?

The FBI has a team that specializes in such cases, which is why the agency joined the search.

FBI Special Agent Jason Kaplan told WSOC, "We're going to explore all possibilities, including abduction, but we're also going to make sure we search every inch of land around here to make sure that he's not simply lost."

When he went missing, Maddox was wearing an orange T-shirt with the phrase "I'm the man" emblazoned on the front. He is 4 feet tall, weighs 45 pounds, has blond hair and blue eyes.

Anyone with information on Maddox's whereabouts are encouraged to call a 24-hour tipline at 704-869-1075.

One last thing…
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