As the FBI and local authorities desperately search for a 6-year-old boy who went missing in a North Carolina park, his tearful mother is pleading with people to “continue praying for him because I just want my baby home.”
Maddox Ritch, 6, who has autism and does not talk, went missing Saturday while at the Rankin Lake Park in Gastonia with his family, police said. A $10,000 reward is being offered, authorities said during a press conference Tuesday.
“Maddox is my whole world and my reason for living,” his mother, Carrie Ritch, said during the press conference.
His mother said that Maddox loves the park, bouncy balls and teddy bears,and “his smile is so contagious and his laughter is so precious.”
“If you were at the park Saturday and saw Maddox … please, urgently, please call the tip line,” Ritch said, crying. “I want my baby back in my arms.”
As Maddox’s mother pleaded for help Tuesday, his father re-traced his route in the park with investigators, authorities said.
Maddox has blond hair and blue eyes, weighs 45 pounds and is 4 feet tall, police said. He was wearing black shorts, closed-toe sandals and an orange T-shirt that reads “I am the Man” at the time he went missing, according to police.
Hundreds of people were in the park Saturday, police said. Authorities are still looking to speak with people who were there, including a professional photographer taking pictures of a family and a jogger whom police have not been able to identify.
Authorities have also checked dozens of dumpsters, searched the park’s lake using sonar and divers and scanned the area with helicopters and drones, police said.
Authorities have also recorded messages from Maddox’s parents and are playing those messages in the woods in the hopes that their voices will persuade him to come out if he’s there, FBI Special Agent Jason Kaplan said Monday.
Former FBI agent and ABC News contributor Brad Garrett said that the idea of broadcasting Maddox’s parents’ familiar voices makes perfect sense.
Children with special needs “tend to be extremely close to their parents,” Garrett told ABC News. “If you have a kid that can’t really communicate but his parents talk to him every day … I completely understand why they would do it.”
Garrett said the FBI likely recorded the phrases Maddox’s parents use with him most often.
Anyone who was at Rankin Lake Park on Saturday is asked to call the tip line at 704-869-1075.
“We have spoken to many people who were there, but we want to make sure we talk to them all,” Gastonia Police Chief Robert Helton said in a statement released by police Monday. “No piece of information is too small. Something you may think is insignificant could be helpful to our case.”