WESTMINSTER, Colo. >> A body found in a suburban Denver park was identified today as that of a missing 10-year-old girl, as anxious parents kept close watch over their children because of the potential presence of a predator in their midst, authorities said.
The body of Jessica Ridgeway was found Wednesday about 7 miles southwest of her home. Authorities said it was not intact, and DNA was used to identify her.
“Our focus has changed from the search for Jessica to a mission of justice for Jessica,” Westminster Police Chief Lee Birk said.
“All our efforts now are in search of her abductor,” he said. “We recognize there is a predator at large in our community.”
Jessica began a short walk from her home to Witt Elementary School on the morning of Oct. 5 but never arrived. A massive search by hundreds of law enforcement officers did not start until hours later because Jessica’s mother works nights and slept through a call from school officials saying Jessica wasn’t there.
The FBI has warned residents that she may have been abducted by someone they know and is asking them to be alert for people they know who might have suddenly changed their appearance or uncharacteristically missed work or appointments.
“It could be your boss, it could be your friend, and ultimately it could be your family member,” FBI spokesman Dave Joly said previously. “We suspect someone in the community knows this individual.”
Jim Yacone, FBI special agent in charge of the Denver division, said investigators would continue neighborhood searches. The U.S. Marshals Service, immigration officials and state Department of Corrections have been reviewing registered sex offenders in the area, he said, without elaborating.
Investigators have received more than 1,500 tips from the public, roughly 800 of which have been covered, Yacone said. Authorities also have searched more than 500 homes and more than 1,000 vehicles but still need the public’s help.
“We want you to look for changes of habits, patterns, peculiar absences of those around you and report it to law enforcement,” he said.