As a parent of two young girls, my blood turns ice-cold every time a TV station reports on a missing kid.
Thankfully, most missing children are found alive and well.
But I simply cannot imagine the heartache and the horror some parents have to face when the worst outcome suddenly becomes reality.
In the case of Maddox Ritch, his mom and dad would receive the worst possible news – but his tragic story would also spark some crucial changes within the FBI.
Nearly four years ago, the weeklong search-and-rescue operation for 6-year-old Maddox Ritch ended in a sad way and left an entire community mourning.
It all began on Sept 22, 2018, when Maddox Ritch from North Carolina was taking a walk in the park with his father and his father’s girlfriend.
It was a beautiful Saturday at Rankin Lake Park in Gastonia – Maddox and his dad were playing around, enjoying the lake, and watching the turtles go by. Then, all of a sudden, Maddox, ran away from his father.
The 6-year-old nonverbal boy, who was on the autism spectrum, disappeared from his father’s eyesight in a moment of seconds. His dad, Ian Ritch, was diabetic and had trouble chasing after his son because of the neuropathy in his feet.
He likes running. 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,” his dad told reporters.
Immediately after the disappearance, an extensive search effort was launched. The local police department, the state police, and the FBI joined forces to find Maddox.
For a week, hundreds of law enforcement officers and search and rescue teams were in full swing. They spent countless hours looking for the boy with blond hair and blue eyes.
No one can accuse the authorities of not putting their heart and soul into finding Maddox. The harrowing case also got an entire community on its feet – everyone wanted to help out. Over 150 leads were sent to the police.
In an effort to find the boy, the 80-acre lake in Rankin park was partially drained to make the shoreline more visible. The FBI also offered $10,000 to anyone who could provide information that would help bring the boy home.
But no drones, search dogs, or infrared sonar technology could track down Maddox. The boy, diagnosed with autism, was gone without a trace.
“I just want my little boy back,” Mr. Ritch said. “It’s been torture. I’m not eating, not sleeping. I’m just worried about getting my little boy back.”
After six days of frantic searching, a breakthrough came when a body was found in a creek near a busy highway. Tragically, it later turned out to be Maddox.
Prayers for this little boy’s family and friends. I can’t not imagine how you are feeling. I Pray that God gives you the strength you need to go through this.