GASTONIA, North Carolina — The father of the 6-year-old missing North Carolina boy — whose body was believed to have been found on Thursday afternoon — took to Facebook to thank everyone who took part in the search.
The FBI and Gastonia police said the body believed to be Maddox Ritch was found in a creek.
“I truly appreciate everything everyone did to find him,” Ian Ritch wrote on Facebook. “And to everyone in the community that were hoping and praying and just took one second of their time to think about Maddox i thank yall too.”
Ian said he was walking in a park with his son last Saturday when the boy, who has autism and is non-verbal, ran ahead of his father.
According to Ritch, Maddox was about 25 feet to 30 feet 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.
“I expected to find him right off,” Ritch wrote. “Over time I got more scared and worried.”
The disappearance set off a search that lasted six days.
“I would give anything to go back and save him,” Ritch wrote on Facebook. “While a lot of people dont believe anything i have said in the past believe this. From this moment on for the rest of my life i will live with the guilt of not being there to save my son.”
“Now today I found out im not a dad anymore,” Ritch wrote. “I had big plans with my son. I wanted us to go fishing play ball go camping. I wanted to be his heroe [sic].”
Ritch said he will never be the same.
“I will now and forever be a broken man until I take my last breath,” he said.
Ritch said that although he’s never been a spiritual man, he wants his son to be the first person he sees in heaven when he dies.
“I can’t wait to see his lil smiling face again.”
Ritch urged other parents to hug their children a little tighter.
“Please don’t make my mistake and let them get too far away from u,” he wrote. “Do everything u can with ur children because i wont get the chance to do anything with mine.”
“Now to Maddox i just want to say i love u lil buddy. Please be waiting for me when my time comes because i promise im gonna do everything i can to be with u rooster!!!!!”
Investigators are trying to confirm the body is that of Maddox Ritch and how he died.
On Wednesday, the boy’s father gave an interview with a CBS News reporter and acknowledged that he was the “number one suspect” in the disappearance of his son.