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Search for young Jessica Ridgeway leads police to body in Colorado

October 11, 2012|By Michael Muskal

Police in Colorado stepped up their search Thursday for a missing 10-year-old girl, even as they examined a body found at a park near the spot where the child was last seen. 

Law enforcement authorities also ruled out any connection between the Colorado girl's disappearance and the abduction of another girl in Wyoming.

At a news conference Thursday, police said they were examining a body found seven miles away from where Jessica Ridgeway, 10, was last seen on Oct. 5. The body was found late Wednesday at Pattridge Park in Arvada, Colo. The body is not intact, slowing down the investigation, Westminister police investigator Trevor Materasso said.

“The Arvada Police Department and Westminster Police Department are working jointly with additional resources to process that crime scene,” Materasso told reporters. “At this time, we're unable to make any connection to the disappearance of Jessica Ridgeway.”

The disappearance of the blonde fifth-grader has drawn tips from as far away as New Hampshire and Maine and at least three other states.

Officials looked into an abduction of an 11-year-old girl about 500 miles away in Cody, Wyo., as well. That girl was found after about four hours.  Authorities are searching for a man who lured the child into a sport utility vehicle with a story about needing her help to find his stray puppy.

“While the FBI Denver Division is actively involved in two child abduction investigations, one in Colorado and one in Wyoming, currently we do not believe these crimes are related,” the FBI said on Thursday in a prepared statement.

When children go missing,  the first suspects are often the parents, especially in cases involving custody issues. But police have ruled out any relatives -- including the mother Sarah Ridgeway, who lives in Colorado, and the father, Jeremiah Bryant, of Missouri -- saying it appeared to be an outsider who grabbed Jessica.

Sarah Ridgeway said her daughter woke up at 7:45 a.m. Friday, ate a granola bar before going to a park to meet friends about a block away for their walk to Witt Elementary School, police said. Ridgeway, who works nights, went to sleep so she missed the call from the school saying Jessica had not arrived.

Ridgeway learned her daughter was missing about eight hours later. She checked the park and called the friends, but as far as anyone knows, Jessica never met her fellow pupils on Friday, police said.

Police have searched bushes, front yards and ponds in the area. On Thursday, authorities used photo radar vans to watch streets. The vans are usually used to track speeders. Fliers about the fifth-grader were posted throughout the neighborhood and purple ribbons--uniting a community in its hope of finding the girl--were tied around trees.

Police said they discovered the child’s backpack and water bottle. Both were found in the town of Superior, six miles away from the Ridgeway home and seven miles from the park.

Many child disappearance cases are solved within hours, often with the help of Amber Alerts--roadway signs with information about the abduction and the vehicle. The Wyoming girl was found by a group of hunters.

That 11-year-old child was abducted about 4 p.m. on Monday at a popular spot with a library, recreation center and aquatic center in Cody, police said. Police are looking for a man, described as a white male, 55 to 60 years old, 185 to 200 pounds, with short strawberry blond or white hair and newly trimmed facial hair.

A friend contacted police and an Amber Alert was issued. Shane Larsen of Cody, out hunting with friends and their sons, told the Cody Enterprise that they didn’t know about the search when they saw the girl, walking along the road, dressed in light clothing in the 30-degree freeze.

“The Lord put us there at that time for a reason,” Larsen said.  “For him (the abductor) to do that to her. To just leave her up there on the side of that mountain and expect her to hike out of there – I can’t even imagine,” he said. “There’s grizzlies up there,” he added. “We had just seen one while we were hunting.”

The hunters couldn’t believe they found a child.

 At first we thought it was an adult female, up there exercising,” he added. “But I was still thinking to myself, ‘What is she doing this far back at this hour?’”

When they got closer, they saw it was a young girl.

“She was wearing a pair of little stretch pants, tennis shoes, a thin shirt and a thin jacket,” Larsen said. “I rolled down the window and asked if she needed help. She was crying, and she said ‘yes.’ I told her to get in the truck.”

Then the child told him of the kidnapping and what she had endured during a sexual assault. As the hunters listened to her talk to her mother, it “ripped my heart out."

“To be hearing those things, your mind can’t even process it,” Larsen told the newspaper.. “For our boys to be sitting there, having to hear those things – you can’t imagine.”

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