Discovery of body believed to be that of missing boy takes emotional toll on community

GASTONIA, N.C. — FBI agent Jason Kaplan said the investigation is continuing.

The body believed to be that of a 6-year-old boy with autism missing for days was found Thursday in a creek about 1 mile from a Gastonia park he reportedly vanished from Saturday.

['This is not the end we had hoped for': Officials find body believed to be Maddox Ritch]

Maddox Ritch’s disappearance has taken an emotional toll on the community, search crews and officials connected with the search effort.

Eyewitness News reporter Ken Lemon witnessed the toll the case is having firsthand.

Lemon got to a scene about a half-mile from the creek just as a police officer got the news.

The officer's expression showed his emotion; his hands under his chin.

[IMAGES: Officials find body near Gastonia park]

He was one of the 330 searchers hoping to bring Maddox home safe and sound.

"It broke my heart," resident Cheryl Caskey said.

Two neighbors embraced as police raced by.

Dr. Charlene Smith said her heart sank when she saw the roadblock and heard the news.

She has a child with autism.

"This could have been my daughter, easily been my daughter,” Smith said.

Paula Elgin held on tight to her 4-year-old grandson that needs hearing aids.

"I'm always watching him,” Elgin said. “I didn't want him to get out of my sight.”

Gastonia Police Chief Robert Helton fought back tears and a breaking voice at a news conference Thursday to announce officials believed the body searchers found was that of Maddox Ritch

Helton said he was "heartbroken" over the discovery.

FBI agent Jason Kaplan said the investigation is continuing.

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