Tuesday , March 18, 2014 - 3:40 PM
WESTMINSTER, Colo.— Authorities have shifted their focus from searching for a missing 10-year-old girl to appealing for help in tracking down her apparent kidnapper, as concern mounts in a Denver suburb where the girl disappeared a week ago and a body was found.
Police on Friday expect to positively identify a body found in a park seven miles from where Jessica Ridgeway went missing Oct. 5. Police have not linked the body to Jessica or even revealed if it belongs to a child. The body found at Pattridge Park in Arvada was “not intact,” which has delayed identification, police said.
Notably missing Thursday were more appeals by authorities to spread word of Jessica’s disappearance via social media. Instead, the FBI’s Behavioral Analysis Unit released a list of changes that a person committing a crime against a child would exhibit. Among them: sudden differences in appearance, missed appointments, being absent from work, or leaving town with no explanation.
“It could be your boss, it could be your friend, and ultimately it could be your family member,” FBI spokesman Dave Joly said. “Bring this information to law enforcement and let us vet that to a close. If that person is not the suspect, ‘Thank you for your call.’ Next lead.”
Joly said agents are searching for a man, based on statistics for this type of crime.
Retired FBI behavioral analyst Clinton Van Zandt told The Associated Press that some things to look out for include a person suddenly growing a beard, cutting their hair or doing other things to change their appearance. Other clues are activities that are out of character, such as a person who may have detailed their car when he normally would have only washed it, Van Zandt said.
Now, authorities just need somebody to have noticed and contact police, Van Zandt said.
As for the lack of information being released by authorities, it’s part of the search for a suspect, Van Zandt said.
“Whoever is responsible would be watching this very closely,” Van Zandt said, and procedure would be to release information “that will drive the offender one way or another.”
Police have ruled out as suspect Jessica’s parents — Sarah Ridgeway, who lives in Colorado, and Jeremiah Bryant, who lives in Missouri — and have said they believe Jessica was kidnapped by an “unknown suspect.”
Jessica’s mother last saw her daughter walking to a park in Westminster to meet friends to walk to school. The girl never arrived at school, setting off a frantic search by hundreds of law enforcement officials and residents.
“It’s so close to home,” said Chelsea Bozsak, a senior at nearby Standley Lake High School, where Jessica’s cousin attends classes.
“That it could have happened to anyone in the community is scary,” she said.
Courtney Sullivan, also a senior at Standley Lake, said her father spoke to her and her younger brother about Jessica’s disappearance.
“He’s definitely talked to us about being more careful about our surroundings. You could see why,” said Sullivan, a cross-country runner who often runs on neighborhood streets. “I’m running in places where there’s lights, busy roads, where I can get to someplace if I need to,” she said.
Fliers about the fifth-grader were posted on nearly every house in Jessica’s neighborhood of modest, two-story homes with single-car garages. Purple ribbons, Jessica’s favorite color and a symbol of hope for her return, were tied around trees.
It was a lively area where children played outdoors, said another neighbor, Luis Pena, but since Jessica disappeared, parents are keeping their children inside and people look at each other with suspicion.
“Nobody trusts anybody anymore,” he said.
The only real clue police have revealed in Jessica’s disappearance is the discovery over the weekend of a backpack and water bottle that she had with her when she disappeared. Police won’t discuss what was found in the bag or test results on it.
The items were found in the town of Superior, some six miles from Jessica’s home.
Additional police were sent to Jessica’s school, said Lynn Setzer, spokeswoman for Jeffco Public Schools. The district has its own security officers at other middle schools and high schools.
Steve Saunders, a spokesman for nearby Adams County schools, said the district is trying to strike a balance between reassuring students and their parents that they are safe, while encouraging them to be vigilant.
Saunders said the district has security officers at all middle schools and high schools, but not elementary schools. He said the district will seek more help if authorities believe it is warranted.
Associated Press reporter Thomas Peipert contributed to this story.
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