GASTONIA, N.C. — With heavy hearts, family members, friends and the first responders who so desperately searched for 6-year-old Maddox Ritch paid their respects.
The funeral service for Maddox was held Friday in the chapel at Raymer-Kepner Funeral Home in Huntersville.
Maddox's mother left clutching a teddy bear, a toy that was loved by her son.
There was a somber moment when pallbearers placed the baby blue casket into the hearse.
Many people prayed and expressed their faith that Maddox would come home safely, including Flip Dow who put up $1,000 for information that would help find the boy.
"It hits you hard when it's a little man or a little girl,” Dow said. “It hits home and you want to do what you can do."
An emotional visitation for Maddox was held Thursday at the funeral home in Huntersville.
Officials found Maddox's body in a creek near Rankin Lake Park in Gastonia six days after he vanished on Sept. 22.
Del Lindley, Maddox’s aunt, spoke to Channel 9 about the family’s gratitude to those who tirelessly tried to find him.
“Your heartfelt perseverance through this very difficult time will never be forgotten,” Lindley said.
Officials said Maddox had autism and couldn't speak.
Searchers found him in a creek about a mile east of where he disappeared.
Maddox’s father, Ian Ritch, arrived at the visitation carrying a bucket and toys for his son who loved to search for turtles.
“I cried. It was hard,” said Paula Trimnal, from Statesville. “I prayed, thinking, hoping they’d find him.”
Trimnal said she never met Maddox, but understands the pain of losing a child.
She brought balloons and teddy bears, and had hoped to console his family.
“To be honest, I’m going to let the Lord guide me through it,” Trimnal said.
Maddox's family told Channel 9 it has found some comfort in knowing it is not alone in mourning.
“We realized our prayers are your prayers also, and our tears are your tears too,” Lindley said.
Authorities are still waiting for Maddox’s autopsy results to learn exactly how he died.
"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," his obituary said.
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