We all have our televised guilty pleasures. For earlier generations it was the likes of “Matlock” or “In the Heat of the Night” and for my generation we had the many variations of “CSI” and “NCIS”. When tragedy knocks on our backdoor it often becomes a shellshock for many, especially for the families involved. Recently a small child named Maddox Ritch went missing at Rankin Lake Park and he unfortunately was found five days later at rest. As much as we all wished this was a case for Gillespie, the news came as a crushing blow to the entire county.

To be completely honest, I didn’t follow this story very closely as it developed. In it’s early stages there were so many mixed stories and unreleased details floating around that there was no telling what to believe. Something seemed very different about this situation from the beginning of it’s unraveling however. People seemed to want to get very involved in the search. Not just park goers from that fateful day, but people from towns all over Gaston County. Pictures of the child’s sweet and innocent face spread across the news and social media like a wildfire in hope that someone, somewhere had spotted his gentle smile. Despite police restriction, it eventually became a movement that was nearly impossible to not be a part of.

In the aftermath of it all there has been some backlash about lack of civilian involvement but truth be told, something incredible has happened. People from across this great county put differences, beliefs, and discriminations aside to come together for the sake of love. Facebook had built groups of complete strangers sharing new developments with one another. Prayer vigils were set in various locations and for a little while nothing else mattered but finding Maddox, because that’s what communities do. We are supposed to love one another and be there when it really matters. To see balloons and teddy bears at the park and the site where his body was found is a sad reminder of the tragedy, but also a testament of love within our community. News reports are depicting our quiet towns hand in hand with heavy hearts but also the compassion for a now broken family. No matter how small or insignificant you felt in this search as a civilian, just know you played a vital part because ultimately we all wanted the best and to find him safe and sound.

I suppose what I’m trying to say is that we all have our own speculations as to how the event took place, and we are entitled to that. We also have a duty and a calling however to be respectful and somber in this delicate time. At one point in time Maddox was a stranger to us all, but has left a lasting impression on the hearts within a county. If we learn nothing else from this experience, let us hold the sense of love, compassion, brotherhood, and sisterhood for one another in honor of a child who brought a ray of hope to a community.

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