GASTONIA, NC (WBTV) - As the sun shone down in Huntersville, pallbearers delicately loaded a powder blue casket into a black hearse.
It’s a casket the Ritch family never wanted to buy, for a funeral they never wanted a plan, for a little boy they never wanted to lose.
Family and friends gathered at Raymer-Kepner Funeral Home in Huntersville Friday afternoon to officially lay little Maddox Ritch to rest, almost two weeks after the 6-year-old went missing at Rankin Lake Park in Gastonia.
It’s been a rollercoaster for the Ritch family, from the search to the sadness that set-in the day Maddox was found in Long Creek. Even through the devastation, the family took time to express gratitude to first law enforcement, and say they’re forever grateful to those who searched.
“Your heartfelt perseverance through this very difficult time will never be forgotten,” Maddox’s aunt, Delores Lindley, said through tears.
Maddox’s story touched the law enforcement, the searchers, and even complete strangers who found themselves following the case as it unfolded, and the Ritch family says they can feel the support the community has poured out to them in this tragic time.
The funeral for 6-year-old Maddox Ritch was held at 11 a.m. at the Raymer-Kepner Funeral Home chapel. It was followed by the private burial.
Maddox went missing while with his dad at Rankin Lake Park in Gastonia on Sept. 22. His body was found less than a week later in Long Creek, not far from the park.
The boy’s disappearance prompted a nearly week-long search in and around the park. The community hoped for a better outcome.
Hundreds in the community also said a final goodbye to Maddox Thursday night.
“To me it’s sort of like my child,” Doris Inman said at Maddox’s visitation Thursday. “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.”
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.”
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.
“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 read.