Tragic Autism Wandering Case Triggers Change at the FBI

September 29, 2020

Agent Develops Checklist of Baseline Questions for Missing Children with ASD

A North Carolina community was left reeling when the body of a six-year-old boy with autism was discovered in a local park partially submerged in a creek. It was just two years ago when Maddox Ritch wandered off from his family at Gastonia Park. He was found lifeless five days later. Maddox’s death was ruled an accidental drowning. His case had a profound effect on Special Agent James Granozio, who leads one of the FBI’s four regional Child Abduction Rapid Deployment (CARD) Teams and assisted in the boy’s disappearance investigation. Since Maddox’s death, Special Agent Granozio has reached out to several autism organizations to learn more about the symptoms of autism and more specifically, about wandering, a common occurrence for children on the spectrum. Through his newly acquired knowledge, Granozio developed a one-page questionnaire for investigators to use when a child with autism goes missing. The questionnaire, which is only available to law enforcement, has already proven successful. Last May, a 14-year-old boy with autism in Mississippi went missing. The CARD Team was deployed to help local law enforcement and the new questionnaire was utilized. The teen was later found eight miles away in Tennessee. 

Special Agent Granzio’s hope is that Maddox’s death was not in vain. “He was a little boy that was just running around having a good time. And he died,” Granzio said. “So we all wanted to know what we could learn from it to hopefully prevent it from happening again.”

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