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Update: Search for Missing Boy With Autism Ends in Tragedy

Photograph by Gastonia Police Department

Update: The search for 6-year-old Maddox Ritch ended tragically today when authorities found what is believed to be the body of the boy in a creek about a mile from the park where he was last seen.

"I'm heartbroken. Our community is heartbroken, our searchers, our investigators," Gastonia (North Carolina) Police Chief Robert Helton said at a press conference held this afternoon. "This is not the end we had hoped for."

Six-year-old Maddox Scott Ritch, who has autism and is nonverbal, disappeared last week after running away from his father in a North Carolina park near the woods.

Maddox's dad, Ian Ritch, and an unidentified friend had taken Maddox to the Rankin Lake Park in Gastonia, North Carolina, to go for a walk when he suddenly took off on foot, according to WSOCTV 9.

"He initially took off just a little ways, maybe 25, 30 feet," Ian said in a statement, "and then he went into a major sprint."

Despite adding new investigators and agents to the hundreds of people already sifting through lakes, landfills and even dumpsters in search of the missing boy—including an elite team of FBI divers with specialized equipment—Maddox has still not been found.

The boy's mother, Carrie Ritch, spoke publicly for the first time since her son's disappearance in a heartbreaking plea. Dressed entirely in black, she begged viewers to call the tip line if they knew anything.

“Continue praying for him because I just want my baby home, please," she cried during the press conference. “Maddox is my whole world, and my reason for living, he’s Momma’s boy.”

Carrie also talked about her son’s contagious smile, precious laugh and the things he enjoys most in life.

"He loves the park and bouncy balls," she sobbed, "and he loves his teddy bear."

Then, the grief-stricken mother reached out one more time, encouraging anyone who might have seen her son to contact authorities.

"Thank you all for your love and support,” she cried. “I just want to say ... I want my baby back in my arms."

In a previous interview with "Good Morning America," Ian Ritch described the harrowing moment his son got away.

“I could see him until a certain point, and that's when he got out of my view, and that's whenever I ... never seen him again,” he said, adding that he carries a lot of guilt after losing sight of his son.

“I feel guilty because I could go into a house, lay down in a bed, and my little boy might be out there in the woods," he added.

He also responded to those questioning how a child could outrun a grown man.

"I'd love to let you see the difference between him running and you running, 'cause he's pretty fast,'" he said. "Everybody looks at you as a monster and I've regretted it ever since it happened."

CBS News reported that investigators are using a voice recorder—with audio of both Mom and Dad—to help locate the missing boy. However, because Maddox is nonverbal, they still have not had any luck finding him.

Maddox is 4 feet tall and weighs 45 pounds, according to the Gastonia Police Department. He has blond hair and blue eyes. He was last seen wearing an orange T-shirt with the words "I am the man" on it, along with black shorts and closed-toe sandals.

The family has set up a $10,000 reward for any information that will help locate the missing boy. If you think you might have seen Maddox, please contact the tip line at 704-869-1075.