CHARLOTTE, NC (WBTV) - The search for a missing 6-year-old with autism in Gastonia continued Monday night.
Maddox Ritch went missing Saturday afternoon at Rankin Lake Park in Gastonia. Officials say he was with his father and one other adult.
While law enforcement officers continued to scour the area for clues Monday, a small group of community members met in a parking lot near the park to pray about the situation.
“I want him to be alive. Just be alive. Please be alive,” said Ashley Dolby, a mother who is concerned about Maddox.
Dolby said she has never met the little boy, but has a child of her own and understands how difficult the situation must be for Maddox’s family. She’s holding out hope that the child will be found safe.
“I will believe fully that boy is alive until I’m told differently,” said Dolby. “I can’t bring myself to accept that something’s happened to him. I don’t want to believe it.”
The area surrounding Rankin Lake Park has been saturated with law enforcement officers. Police were still blocking the road that leads to park as officers searched the area Monday night. Pastor Wavey Williams of the Gathering Place Ministry has seen a lot of the activity.
“There were search squads coming out of the woods. Several had sticks, several on vehicles, riding around searching for the child. We’ve had helicopters above our heads all day long here,” explained Williams.
Angela Mathis, another concerned resident from the community, said she wanted to pray for Maddox to show law enforcement officers that members of the public could help them in their search efforts.
“I figured this would be the best way to hopefully change their minds that we could get out there and help find him,” said Mathis.
Dolby fought back tears as she spoke about the situation in front of reporters. She offered her own message to the missing 6-year-old.
“Maddox, please don’t give up baby. Please don’t give up. If you’re alive and out there come home. Please just come home and be alive. That’s all I keep thinking is just please be alive.”
Maddox was last seen wearing an orange T-shirt with writing “I am the man” and black shorts with white stripes. He has blonde hair and blue eyes. He is 4 feet tall and weighs 45 pounds. Officials say Ritch is nonverbal.