Thousands mourn slain Colo. girl; police seek help

By P. Solomon Banda

Associated Press

Published: Wednesday, Oct. 17 2012 1:26 a.m. MDT

Friends and family gather at the altar just befor the start of a memorial service for 10-year-old Jessica Ridgeway at Faith Bible Chapel in Arvada on Tuesday, Oct. 16, 2012. More than 2,000 friends, family and community members gathered Tuesday to remember Ridgeway who was abducted Oct. 5 on her way to school in suburban Denver. Even as the public memorial was held, multiple agencies were checking leads and asking for more tips in their hunt for Jessica Ridgeway's killer.

The Denver Post, Kathryn Scott Osler, Associated Press

Enlarge photo»

ARVADA, Colo. — More than 2,000 family members, friends, neighbors and others remembered a 10-year-old girl who was abducted on her way to school in a Denver suburb and killed.

As the public memorial for Jessica Ridgeway was held Tuesday night, the search for her killer continued, with multiple agencies checking leads and asking for more tips.

Westminster Police Chief Lee Birk said at the evening service that investigators are working the case "tirelessly, diligently, and we are committed until we achieve justice for Jessica." Earlier, police said they had received more than 350 more phone tips Tuesday.

The ceremony at Faith Bible Chapel in Arvada opened with a slideshow of pictures set to Jessica's favorite songs, including "Call Me Maybe" by Carly Rae Jepsen. Many attendees wore the fifth-grader's favorite color, purple.

Pastor Rick Long of Grace Church in Arvada said Jessica had two fish, two frogs and a dog, and that she loved Disney films. She enjoyed wearing green and blue makeup as part of her peewee cheerleading squad at a nearby high school, and she was looking forward to dressing up as a zombie lifeguard for Halloween.

Long added that community support has been helping Jessica's family.

Gov. John Hickenlooper, whose son is Jessica's age, told those gathered that the Ridgeways are in Coloradans' thoughts.

"Every single person in this state is with the Ridgeways in every single way that we may be," Hickenlooper said.

Cases like this — in which a child apparently is abducted and killed by a stranger — are "the ones that shock entire communities and scare us all," said Robert Lowery, senior executive director of the missing children's division at the National Center For Missing and Exploited Children.

Michelle King, who lives in the neighborhood where Jessica disappeared, said she brought her 10-year-old daughter to the memorial partly as closure.

"It's a thing we have to talk to our children about," King said. "We've gotten a little relaxed about this."

Authorities have been tight-lipped about the investigation since they announced Friday that a body found on the edge of town belonged to Jessica.

The girl was last seen alive walking down a quiet street in her modest Westminster neighborhood Oct. 5. Her school backpack was found three days later in Superior, another Denver suburb about seven miles northwest of her home.

Jessica's body was found Oct. 10, the same day authorities ruled out her parents as suspects in her disappearance. Her body was found along a remote road that locals say few knew about.

Authorities usually are reserved in what they say to the public, out of concern for causing unnecessary alarm. But they issued a statement last week advising residents to be suspicious of their bosses, friends and family members.

Authorities asked the public to keep an eye out for people exhibiting unusual behavior — like leaving town unexpectedly, missing appointments, consuming unusual amounts of alcohol or changing their appearance. The idea was that the killer would not be able to act normally after committing the crime.

"They may have no suspects," said Kenneth Lanning, a retired FBI behavior analyst in Fredericksburg, Va., who is now a consultant specializing in crimes against children. "But likely at this point, they have so many suspects and now they're trying to sort through them."

Lanning is not involved in the Colorado case but described such investigations as multi-track efforts, with volunteers and deputies searching homes, bushes, drainages and open space near the child's house while investigators develop a criminal case.

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