GASTONIA, NC (WBTV) - Brooke Sheppard returned to Rankin Lake Park Friday, after a week of praying and helping investigators search for Maddox Ritch.
Sheppard is one of the people who says she saw Maddox in the park the day he went missing.
She was there for a church picnic and remembers going for a walk around Rankin Lake with her mom and daughter.
It was on that walk, Brooke says, they ran into little Maddox. She says he came up behind them on the path around the lake, and her mom tried to talk to him.
“I can remember her looking over and asking him ‘hey buddy are you tired?’ because he had just been skipping, jogging, being a kid,” Sheppard said.
Sheppard said he didn’t say anything back, and they kept an eye on him as he ran toward the park office.
They figured he was on his way back to his parents, or whoever he came with, but later that day, when they heard people were looking for a little boy with blonde hair and an orange shirt, she just knew.
“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.
Sheppard has told her story over and over to detectives this week, working with them and retracing her steps, along with many other witnesses who have called in tips this week.
She said she had been glued to the case, and praying for good news, until yesterday when investigators said they found Maddox’s body in Long Creek, about a mile east of the Rankin Lake Park.
“My heart broke,” Sheppard said through tears. “It was sad.”
She knows she’s not the only one who hoped this tragedy wasn’t true.
“I’m sure everybody else feels the same way, they felt like they knew him because they were searching so hard for him, and we all had high hopes of they’re going to find him, they’re going to find him,” Sheppard said.
She says she’s asked her self “what if” plenty of times this week, and says she’s relying on prayer. Prayers for Maddox, and for his family, that they can one day find peace.