DENVER (AP) — Authorities scoured a suburban Denver neighborhood for clues Tuesday and urged people to watch out for a 10-year-old girl who disappeared four days earlier on her way to school.
Westminster police released more photos of Jessica Ridgeway along with a short home video, saying it would help the public learn her mannerisms and the sound of her voice.
Authorities asked the public to note the fifth-grader’s distinguishing characteristics, such as a small gap between her front teeth and a sore on her nose below where her eyeglasses sit, adding that she might not be wearing glasses.
Jessica was last seen Friday morning after leaving home to meet friends at a park so they could walk to school. Police say she didn’t meet up with her friends or reach the campus.
Authorities got a late start searching for her because her mother works nights and slept through a call Friday from school officials after Jessica didn’t arrive for classes.
Police found her backpack on a sidewalk in a neighborhood about six miles north of her home two days after she went missing. Police had it analyzed at the state crime lab after taking DNA samples from her family.
Jessica’s mother, Sarah Ridgeway, told KUSA-TV in Denver that her home is too quiet without Jessica.
“I want her to come walking back through that door,” she said. “I need her to come walking back through that door.”
Her father, Jeremiah Bryant, pleaded for his daughter’s safe return.
“I just want to find my daughter. I just want her back home,” he told KUSA. “It’s by far the worst thing I’ve ever been through. Still is.”
Bryant has been living recently with his grandmother Donna Moss in Independence, Mo. Moss said she last saw Jessica about six weeks ago when Jessica and her mother came through the Kansas City area on their way home from a vacation.
Court records indicate Bryant was ordered to pay Sarah Ridgeway $267 per month in child support in 2005. Moss, a retired nurse, said the families have always been on good terms, and she saw Jessica about once a year.
“There has never been a custody issue with Jessica, and we’ve had a good relationship all along with” Jessica’s mother, she said. “Whenever they go on vacation or whenever we can afford to go to Colorado or he can afford to go to Colorado without me, we get together and it’s not a hostile environment of any kind. No way, shape or form.”
Court records also show Bryant was sentenced this summer to supervised probation in a domestic assault case in Missouri. Information on the alleged victim wasn’t immediately available.
Jamie McGeehan, 30, the mother of two of Bryant’s other children, said people have been asking her about Bryant.
“On behalf of our daughters, we would like to say that it doesn’t matter what type of person their dad, Jeremiah Bryant, is. The point is to find Jessica. She is missing,” McGeehan said. “Neither Sarah or Jeremiah have her. So please help us find her. … I know he doesn’t have her. We would tell Sarah right away if he did.”
Police searched Moss’ home Friday after telling her Jessica was missing.
“I said I’m sure I don’t have any problem with you going through my house. We don’t have Jessica and for God’s sake if we don’t have her and her mom doesn’t have her please do everything you can to find her,” Moss said.
Moss said police later told Bryant that Jessica was missing “and he absolutely came apart.”
“It was like, ‘My God, who would have my kid?’ It does something to your head. It does something to your head or your heart or something,” Moss said
Moss said that even though Jessica came from a broken relationship, “it wasn’t a relationship that was ever ugly.”
“It was a relationship that they were too young,” Moss said.
She and Bryant’s mother planned to head to Colorado on Tuesday and join Bryant. A prayer vigil is planned Wednesday evening at an Independence park, Moss said.
Denver media reported that an FBI evidence team arrived at the girl’s home after family members left to record the TV interview Tuesday. FBI spokesman Dave Joly confirmed some team members were at the home but declined to elaborate.
Police spokesman Trevor Materasso implied that investigators were focusing attention on a possible abduction but refused to comment on what techniques police were using as they try to find her.
He said her family has cooperated in the investigation from the start.
Searchers have also scoured open areas near where the backpack was found. Authorities planned to wrap up a search of fields near her home Tuesday and continue interviews with residents in Jessica’s neighborhood.
More than 800 volunteers turned out for Saturday’s search, and more than 400 leads have been called in to a tip line. Hundreds of community members pointed flashlights to the sky at two vigils for Jessica on Tuesday evening.
Meanwhile police almost 500 miles away in Cody, Wyo., were investigating the abduction of an 11-year-old girl. Police say a man enticed the girl into his SUV Monday by claiming he needed help finding a missing puppy. The man threatened the girl with a pistol, sexually assaulted her and left her outside the town.
“We are not ignoring the fact that we have somewhat similar situations in a short period of time,” Jefferson County sheriff’s spokeswoman Jacki Kelley of Colorado told The Denver Post. “Whether they are related or not, we cannot say one way or the other.”
Sudekum reported from Independence, Mo. AP researcher Judith Ausuebel in New York contributed to this report.