A North Carolina woman said that she saw Maddox Ritch, 6, at Rankin State Park the day that he went missing.
A body was found in connection with the boy’s disappearance on Sept. 27, and officials said they believe its the boy who was autistic and couldn’t speak.
Brooke Sheppard said she was at the park on Saturday, Sept. 22, for a church event. She said that Maddox came up to her mother, daughter and herself on a path behind a lake, WBTV reported.
“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 told the station, adding that he didn’t say anything back. He then ran toward the park office.
Sheppard said that she figured that the boy was on his way back to his parents. But later that day, they heard people were looking for the boy.
“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.
Later, when she heard of the boy’s likely death, “my heart broke,” she said. “It was sad.”
“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.
This week, she asked herself whether she could have done things differently when she saw the boy, WBTV reported.
Father Reacts on Facebook
The boy’s father, Ian Ritch, said that the boy ran after a jogger and he couldn’t keep up with him.
“I started worrying once I could not see him anyone,” he told WRAL. “It’s torture. I just want my little boy back home. I want to give him a big hug as soon as I see him,” Ritch said. “He looked back at me and laughed like he normally does … he slowed down a little then he paced himself back up,” he said.
“He likes running,” the father said, The Associated Press reported. “I couldn’t catch up with him. I feel guilt for letting him get so far ahead of me before I started running after him.”
The FBI on Sept. 27 said that it is still investigating the death. The boy’s cause of death has not been revealed and a medical examiner’s report is pending.
In a Facebook post on the day of the boy’s death, Ian Ritch expressed his grief, saying that he is “not a dad anymore.”
He also wrote: “While a lot of people don’t believe anything I have said in the past, believe this. From this moment on for the rest of my life, I will live with the guilt of not being there to save my son.”
Ritch continued: “So when everyone else gets to go back to their normal lives remember that I will never be the same man again. I will now and forever be a broken man until I take my last breath.”