Autopsy: Missing North Carolina boy drowned accidentally

GASTONIA, N.C. — A 6-year-old boy who went missing after running off in a North Carolina park died of accidental drowning, according to an autopsy released Thursday.

A state medical examiner's report found the cause of death for Maddox Ritch was consistent with drowning, according to a Gastonia Police Department news release. The department quoted the autopsy as saying the evidence "gives no indication ... other than an accidental drowning."

Police Chief Robert Helton said in the release that he doesn't expect to file criminal charges.

"I ask for continued prayers for Maddox's family and everyone touched by this child's tragic death," he said.

Maddox went missing while at Rankin Lake Park in Gaston County with his father Sept. 22. His body was found days later in a nearby creek.

The boy's father, Ian Ritch, has said he lost sight of Maddox after the boy broke into a sprint and ran off. The autopsy said medical records showed the boy was autistic and nonverbal. The father has said diabetic neuropathy made it hard for him to run after the boy.

The case received widespread attention as scores of searchers combed the park and surrounding areas using drones and all-terrain vehicles. His parents made emotional appearances at news conferences to plead for help in the search, while investigators repeatedly requested information from anyone who may have been in the park that day.