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FBI Checklist Aids Searches for Missing Autistic Children
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When the CARD Team deploys, Bedford said, trainings provided to our law enforcement partners have proven to be particularly beneficial because everyone already knows how to work alongside the CARD Team. “So when the CARD Team comes in, the lead investigative agency doesn’t need to waste time developing a plan, they’ve got a very effective playbook that they can roll out immediately. And I think local departments really appreciate that.”

Gastonia Police Department Chief Robert Helton said things moved very quickly in the Maddox case, and it helped that his department had relationships in place with the local FBI. His department reached out to the Charlotte Field Office, which led to activation of the CARD Team.

“My initial thought was, ‘We need all the help we can get right now,’” Helton recalled in a recent interview. “You know, every second counts when you have a child that’s missing. You have to act very quickly, and I think it was helpful for us to already have that established relationship.”

“I really appreciated the way the FBI came to town and worked with us,” Helton added. “The outpouring of support from law enforcement partners, the FBI, and the Gastonia community was overwhelming. I wish it had turned out differently and we could have reunited that little boy with his parents. But a new tool to help other investigators is at least something positive to come out of this tragedy.”

Time is always of the essence when CARD Teams are involved. “The clock is really ticking,” Bedford said. “In these cases, we would hope they would call on us as soon as possible to get involved before we lose evidence that may help recover the child.”

In May, a 14-year-old autistic boy went missing in Mississippi and a CARD Team deployed to support local investigators. Bedford said that the new questionnaire played a role in how the search teams conducted their ground searches. The boy was later recovered eight miles away in Tennessee.

The questionnaire, which is only available to law enforcement, has been part of the CARD Teams’ deployment toolkits for more than a year now. Granozio and Gastonia Police Chief Helton both view it as the rare positive development from the Maddox Ritch case.

“He was a little boy that was just running around having a good time. And he died,” Granozio said. “So we all wanted to know what we could learn from it to hopefully prevent it from happening again.”

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