Jessica Ridgeway, 10, is shown in this image provided by the Westminster… (Westminster Police Department )
The search for 10-year-old Jessica Ridgeway ended in tragedy Friday with the announcement by law enforcement that a body found in a suburban Denver park was that of the missing girl. She had been missing since Oct. 5.
The investigation will now shift from a search for the fifth-grader to a search for the person responsible for her death, police said.
“We recognize that there is a predator at large in our community,” said Westminster Police Chief Lee Birk in a news conference posted online by the Denver Post. “I want the community to know that we are doing everything within our power to apprehend that individual.”
The body was found Wednesday about seven miles from the girl’s Westminster home, where she was last seen leaving for school. It was not positively identified until Friday. Hundreds of volunteers had helped search for the girl since she went missing.
FBI Special Agent Jim Yacone told the Associated Press that various authorities, including the U.S. Marshal's Service, immigration officials and state Department of Corrections, were reviewing registered sex offenders in the area.
Already, he said, investigators have received more than 1,500 tips and have searched more than 500 homes and more than 1,000 vehicles.
Gov. John Hickenlooper called Friday’s announcement “an unthinkable end to an unthinkable crime in our community.”
“It is with a profound sense of sorrow that we learned of Jessica Ridgeway’s death,” he said in a written statement.
Family and friends said they would gather in Westminster on Saturday afternoon to release balloons in celebration of the girl's life.
“We are saddened by the discovery of the murder of Jessica Ridgeway. The community has given so much support and it is greatly appreciated,” read a statement posted at a website created by her family. “Words can not express the gratitude that Jessica’s Family and Friends have for the Community, the media for getting this story out, Westminster Police Department, the FBI, and other local and federal law enforcement.”
Earlier this week, the FBI's Behavioral Analysis Unit released a list of characteristics of a possible kidnapper, most likely a man who suddenly changes his behavior.
The list said the person might miss work or scheduled appointments and commitments, such as doctor visits or meetings with friends or family members. The person also might “suddenly leave town, either with no explanation or with some plausible reason.”
Further, he might show an intense interest in the status of the Ridgeway investigation or, conversely, quickly turn off news reports about the case.