GASTONIA, N.C. — A community was left heartbroken after Gastonia police announced they found the body believed to be 6-year-old Maddox Ritch on Thursday afternoon.
A community is trying to find some light in a time of darkness after the tragedy.
"We're not here to try and fix it. We definitely want to talk about hope, and how we have hope in the midst of pain," the Rev. Austin Rammell said Friday night at a vigil held at Rankin Lake Baptist Church in Gastonia.
Rammell, of Ventures Church, helped those who attended the vigil hold onto faith.
"So many people, their hearts are breaking,” Natasha Polinsky, a Ritch family friend, said. “Not just the family and friends, but the community. The nation."
Polinsky said the tragic news hits especially close to home.
"My oldest son is autistic so, it hits even harder," she said.
Community members are raising money for the family's funeral expenses by selling #MaddoxStrong stickers and T-shirts.
A vigil was held later in the night for the boy who reportedly vanished Saturday from Rankin Lake Park.
“It's hard. Very hard,” said Brenda Badgero, who attended the vigil.
Parents shared his family's heartbreak while they prayed for their healing.
“The prayer tonight is more for his family, and for his soul to go up peacefully, now,” community member Mikaela Moose said.
Maddox had autism, which many could relate to.
“I have two children with autism and they run, every time they hit the door,” Pocca Marshall said.
The group released balloons in Maddox’s honor.
“It was heartbreaking,” Dallas resident Kimberly Adams said. “It was heartbreaking.”
A family member's friend is raising money to help pay for Maddox's funeral expenses. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org to purchase a T-shirt that costs $25.
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