A search and rescue effort turned into a homicide investigation when a body found near Pattridge Park Open Space Park in Arvada was officially identified as 10-year-old Jessica Ridgeway of Westminster.
The tragic news was announced late Friday afternoon by the Westminster Police Department
"Our focus has changed from the search for Jessica to a mission of justice for Jessica," Westminster Police Chief Lee Birk said. "We realize there is a predator at large in our community."
The body, found on Wednesday, was not intact, making an initial identification difficult.
Police and the FBI ask for the community’s help in finding the suspect.
FBI Denver spokesman Dave Joly said the agency is using its Behavioral Analysis Unit in the search for a suspect.
The mission of the unit is to provide behaviorally-based operational support for complex and sensitive cases.
Resources are focused on crimes perpetrated against child victims, including abductions and mysterious disappearances of children.
“People need to be looking for abnormal behavior, or changes in behavior since Jessica’s disappearance,” Joly said. “It can something as simple as shaving of the face, or change in hair color. It could also be a behavior change like someone parking in the garage when they always parked in the driveway.”
Joly said because the FBI suspects someone in the community knows the individual they are seeking, they are hoping people report even the smallest of behavior changes they notice in other people.
“The suspect can be anyone from your neighbor, friend and ultimately your family member,” Joly said. “That is why we are asking the community to contact us with any sort of information, even if the change in behavior is very small.”
Joly said the suspect could very well be in the immediate area. The FBI assumes the person is a man, because statistically speaking, that is normally the case, he added.
The FBI is investigating hundreds of possible leads using a variety of resources. Anyone with information or tips on the investigation is encouraged to call 303-658-4336.
Ridgeway was last seen by her mother Sarah Ridgeway around 8:30 a.m. on Friday, Oct. 5, walking down the driveway of her home on West 107th Avenue and Moore Street in Westminster.
Ridgeway normally met friends at Chelsea Park three blocks away from her home, but police reported her friends said she didn't show up.
Memorials have been set up at Kensington and Chelsea parks. Friday was also “wear purple day” in support of the Ridgeway family.
Upon receiving the news, Gov. John Hickenlooper released the following statement on the Ridgeway case:
"This is 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. On behalf of all of Colorado, we offer our deepest sympathies to her family and friends. The Colorado Department of Public Safety and other federal, state and local agencies involved in the case will continue to provide all of the support they can as the investigation continues."