CHARLOTTE, NC (WBTV) - One of the last people claiming to be with 6-year-old Maddox Ritch before he disappeared at a Gastonia park Saturday says the boy ran off and out of sight, vanishing.
Ian Ritch, Maddox's father, spoke with CBS Corresponant Davied Begnaud Wednesday.
“What do I see in your eyes?” Begnaud asked. “Sadness,” Ian said, describing the past few days as “rough.”
Ian said he and his new girlfriend were on a track at the Rankin Lake Park when Maddox took off behind a jogger and disappeared.
“All of us was together. Everything was great And then a jogger passed by and as he was jogging past us, that’s when Maddox started to jog out behind him,” the boy’s father said in an interview with Begnaud.
“So I usually just give him a little space and let him do his thing and once we got so far, he took off from me running and I tried to catch him. And I just never could catch up with him,” Ian continued.
"He had too much of a head start on me."
Begnaud, puzzled, asked how Ian lost sight of his son so suddenly.
Ian said people were on the path and blocking his view. He said Maddox had "too many options” and could have gone into the parking lot or on the track.
“I mean, I know I’m the number one suspect when it starts. That’s plain and simple,” Ian said in response to Begnaud on whether he felt he was being treated as a suspect. Ian said authorities have asked for phone records, to search the cars and to search the house. “Everything that they’ve asked for I’ve given them right off the bat.”
Ian also said he never harmed Maddox. His interview with Begnaud apparently wasn’t the first time he was asked that question.
“I’m not eating, I’m not sleeping, I’m just worried about getting my little boy back,” Ian said in Wednesday’s press conference.
"I would like to add that if anybody out there knows anything to call the tip line - get Maddox back home."
“I feel guilt for letting him get so far ahead of me before I started running,” Ian said in Wednesday’s press conference, saying medical conditions make running difficult for him.
Authorities continue pressing anyone who was out at Rankin Lake Park Saturday to call the tip line at 704-869-1075.
Maddox was last seen wearing an orange shirt that read, “I am the man,” and black shorts with a white stripe. Maddox has autism and is nonverbal, officials say. He is described as being four feet tall and 45 pounds with blonde hair and blue eyes.
Authorities are also asking to speak with a man in a silver truck who was wearing a camouflage hat and loading up a kayak.
Ian said he alerted park staff moments after Maddox vanished.
According to the 911 call, made by a park employee, Maddox was missing for approximately an hour before the employee made the call.
“We’ve got a missing kid. He’s been missing for the last 30-40 minutes. Hour maybe,” the caller said.
As the 911 operator asked for the name of the child, later identified as Maddox, the employee said he was unable to confirm the child’s name with the parents, who were out searching for the boy.
“We searched everywhere,” the caller stated.
Ian Ritch told Begnaud that he took two lie detector tests and passed both.