(GASTONIA, N.C.) -- A body believed to be missing boy Maddox Ritch was found on Thursday, days after the 6-year-old vanished in broad daylight in a North Carolina park, city officials and the FBI said.
Maddox, who has autism and does not talk, was at Rankin Lake Park in Gastonia with his father, Ian Ritch, and another adult when he started sprinting roughly 25 to 30 feet ahead, his dad told reporters.
"I feel guilt for letting him get so far ahead of me," Ian Ritch said.
"As soon as I got to the point where I couldn’t see him anymore, I started panicking," Ian Ritch said.
The disappearance sparked a massive search by local, state and federal investigators, who scoured the land with police dogs, searched dumpsters, waded through the park's lake using sonar and divers and scanned the area with helicopters and drones, police said.
Authorities also recorded messages from Maddox's parents and played those messages in the woods in the hopes that their voices would persuade him to come out if he was there.
The body believed to be Maddox was found off of Marietta Street/Old Dallas Highway in Gastonia, about a mile or two from the park, officials said Thursday afternoon.
His parents have been notified, the FBI said.
"Maddox is my whole world and my reason for living," his mother, Carrie Ritch, said at a press conference Tuesday.
"I want my baby back in my arms," she said through tears.
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