The tragic case of 6-year old Maddox Ritch continues. The autistic child’s body was found about 20 miles west of the park, submerged in the creek. Maddox’s father reported him missing, saying that the child wandered off while they were at the park together along with his father’s girlfriend. Previously, park workers denied seeing Maddox in the park that day. But now, Fox News reports that a woman saw Maddox playing in the park as his father reported.
Brooke Sheppard was at Gastonia’s Rankin Lake Park with her mother for a church picnic on September 22, the day Maddox went missing. Maddox was diagnosed with autism and was non-verbal. Sheppard said they saw him skipping and jogging in the park.
“I can remember her [my mother] looking over and asking him ‘hey buddy are you tired?’ because he had just been skipping, jogging, being a kid,” Sheppard said.
She said when she later heard Maddox was missing, and FBI agents had found the body of a child partially submerged in the creek, she knew it was the little boy she had seen in the park that day.
“I knew immediately that was him, because I can remember seeing him, and then he was in front of me. I can just remember it to a T,” Sheppard said.
Detectives are already following up on this new lead, and Sheppard said she has been interviewed several times and has retraced her steps with detectives to where she saw the boy in the park.
Sheppard’s steps directly contradict that of another witness, park worker Rick Foxx, who says he never saw Maddox once that day. Foxx called 911 to report Maddox missing.
“It didn’t look as though, they were that concerned,” Foxx said, referring to the couple. “I’ve worked there almost three years and we see everybody come in and out of that park pretty much. I didn’t see that kid one time.”
Maddox’s father, Ian Ritch, said that his son merely ran ahead of him and that this was a tragic accident. The FBI says they are investigating to see if there was foul play involved in the death, or if Ritch and his girlfriend are telling the truth about losing track of the boy in the park.
Ritch posted an emotional plea on Facebook, saying that he is aware that the events look strange, but reiterating that he had nothing to do with the disappearance and that he feels enormous guilt.