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The Latest: Police chief: ‘I’m heartbroken’ after body found

GASTONIA, N.C. (AP) — The Latest on the search for a missing North Carolina boy (all times local):

4:45 p.m.

The chief of a North Carolina police department said he was “heartbroken” over the discovery of a body believed to be that of a missing 6-year-old boy.

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. The boy’s father said he ran off from him as he and a friend walked at Rankin Lake Park last weekend. Ian Ritch said he couldn’t catch up with his son because he has neuropathy in his feet due to diabetes.

Gastonia Fire Chief Phil Welch said the body was found in a creek, slightly more than a mile (1.6 kilometers) east of the park, by a searcher who was walking down the middle of the creek as his partners stood on the bank. He said the area had been searched previously by drones, all-terrain vehicles and on foot.

FBI agent Jason Kaplan said the investigation is continuing.

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2:30 p.m.

Search crews have found a body they believe to be that of a 6-year-old boy who ran off from his father at a park, a North Carolina police department said Thursday.

A statement from Gastonia police said the body was found around 1 p.m. Thursday at a location approximately 4 miles (6 kilometers) from the park where he was last seen. Identification of the body will be done by the medical examiner’s office.

Last Saturday, his father said Maddox Ritch ran off from him and a friend at Rankin Lake Park and disappeared before he could catch up to him.

The news release says the boy’s parents have been notified about the body being found. They went before the media this week to plead for any information that would lead to the discovery of Maddox, who was autistic. On Wednesday, Ian Ritch appeared on national television and at a news conference to repeat the pleas.

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