“Our tears are your tears.” Maddox Ritch’s family thanks community at visitation

Updated: Oct. 4, 2018 at 10:10 PM EDT
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HUNTERSVILLE, NC (WBTV) - The story of a little boy found dead in Gaston County has touched the hearts of people across the area.

Thursday, that community said a final goodbye to six-year-old Maddox Ritch.

Maddox’s body was found near a creek last week, after he went missing from Rankin Lake Park.

Through tears, Maddox’s aunt wanted to make sure the community knew how much their support has meant to them, during this time.

“We realize that our prayers are your prayers also,” Delores Lindley said. “And that our tears are your tears too. There are no words that can adequately express our love and appreciation to all of you.”

Lindley joined hundreds of others to remember their little boy.

“He had a contagious smile,” she said. “And he was a happy child.”

The story of Maddox’s disappearance has gripped the hearts of community members, including ones who never knew him.

“To me it’s sort of like my child,” Doris Inman said. “All children are our children, so we must love and care for them the best we know how.”

People came from all over Thursday, from first responders who searched tirelessly for him, to others who brought his favorite toy – a teddy bear.

The staff at Maddox’s school, Odell Elementary, say it has been a tough time in the classroom.

“We’re just praying for the family,” Joel Woodcock said. “We believe that Maddox is in heaven.”

“We’ll miss him,” Patty Woodcock said. “He’s a sweet, sweet boy.”

Inside, several personal touches, including a handmade portrait of Maddox, and other photos and flowers, lined the funeral home.

Lindley said she holds onto a memory of Maddox, pulling her aside to play at a family get together.

“He made me feel special because we all vied for his attention,” she said.

And on this night, she had a heartfelt message from the family, for those who gave their all to find their little boy.

“We love you all now and always.”

Due to the outpouring of support from the community, two visitation locations were set up for Maddox - one at Raymer-Kepner Funeral Home in Huntersville and another at Withers and Whisenant Funeral Home in Gastonia.

A custom portrait of the six-year-old boy was positioned alongside flowers and a teddy bear at Raymer-Kepner Funeral home.

Maddox’s funeral service will be held at 11 a.m. on Friday, Oct. 5 in the chapel at Raymer-Kepner Funeral Home.

The burial will be held private.

Maddox disappeared on Sept. 22 at Rankin Lake Park after running off and out of sight, according to his dad.

RELATED: Dad of Maddox Ritch takes to social media with emotional post

The boy’s disappearance prompted a nearly week-long search in and around the park. The community hoped for a better outcome.

Last Thursday, officials found the little boy’s body in Long Creek near the park. The area is just off Marietta Street near Old Dallas Highway.

RELATED: Body believed to be 6-year-old Maddox Ritch found after six-day search

“Maddox was a sweet and loving little boy who was full of laughter. He loved Paw Patrol, his Teddy, playing with his bouncy balls, but above all he loved his mom and dad the most,” the obituary reads.

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