By Will C. Holden
Westminster, CO (CNN/KDVR) — Describing her as a 10-year-old who “can’t wait to be a teenager,” Sarah Ridgeway talked about her daughter Jessica Ridgeway — and the last morning she saw her.
Surrounded by members of her extended family and speaking publicly for the first time since Jessica went missing four days earlier, Sarah was mostly composed.
Sarah described the alarm clock Jessica begged her to buy going off at 7:45 a.m. — “she wanted to be able to get up on her own,” Sarah said. The worried mother described seeing her daughter coming down the stairs, watching T.V., eating a granola bar, getting dressed, peeling an orange for a snack later that day and walking out the front door.
“It was like any other morning,” Sarah said, breaking down in tears. “I watched her walk out the door. Her friend says she’s walking too. That was the last time I saw her.
“I want her to walk back through that door. I need her to walk back through that door.”
Appearing more consistently broken up than his ex-wife, Jessica’s father Jeremy Bryant was also on hand. He described getting the news in Missouri that investigators had found his daughter’s abandoned backpack and water bottle on Sunday.
It remains the biggest break in the nationwide search for his daughter. But for a father, the phone call caused him to break down.
“It was about time to get off work when I got that phone call,” Bryant said. “I told my boss I had to leave. I couldn’t stay. I’ve been lost ever since.”
All of Jessica’s seven other family members on hand for the recorded statement at the Westminster Police Department were draped in purple, which they say is Jessica’s favorite color. The child’s great aunt Gay Moore described missing a bubbly girl who was excited to take care of her neighbors cats over the weekend before she went missing.
“She’s a giggler,” Moore said of Jessica. “She giggles a lot — that’s all she ever does. She loves to try out jokes on the family, and she’s actually got some pretty good ones.
“Jessica is the light of our life. She’s a special girl.”
The family also described the community from which Jessica was taken. They called it a safe place — one so safe, in fact, that most of the children in the neighborhood made the mile-and-a-half walk to Witt Elementary School together every morning.
“Our neighborhood is safe,” Sarah said. “The kids go down and play at the park all the time. I’ve never seen anybody suspicions. There have never been burglaries.
“All the police activity (stemming from the search for Jessica) is very unusual.”
Sarah described a conversation she had with Jessica about taking a recently-introduced bus service to school this year. Instead, Sarah said, Jessica made a plan with her older cousin Jeremy to walk to school every day.
Saying that her cell phone was downstairs because she has been getting pestering calls from a college to which she has applied, Sarah said she did not immediately receive the notifications from the elementary school that Jessica had not shown up for class.
When she did get the calls, Sarah said she “knew right away that something was wrong.”
“Jessica loves school,” Sarah said. “I checked some of the places I knew she wouldn’t be just to make sure. But I knew if she wasn’t at school, something was wrong.”
The tough questions asked of Jessica’s family didn’t end there.
The family was also asked about their rather unorthodox approach to wait until the fifth day of the search for Jessica before coming forward with a public statement.
Sarah fielded that question, saying the group had planned to come forward on Sunday before they got the news that Jessica’s backpack had been discovered.
“That’s when we knew Jeremy was coming (from Missouri) on Sunday,” Sarah said. “He’s a part of this family, so we wanted to wait for him.”
Jeremy and Sarah are divorced and also involved in a custody dispute regarding Jessica. Jeremy is also currently on felony probation after being convicted of second degree domestic assault.
Neither Jeremy nor Sarah have been named as a person of interest in the search for Jessica, and both said there is a reason for that.
“I know I didn’t do anything,” Sarah said. “Everybody in this room knows I didn’t do anything. I know Jeremy didn’t do anything. Everybody who knows me, knows her and knows our family knows we didn’t do anything.”
When he was asked by the FBI if he thought Sarah had kidnapped Jessica, Jeremy said he offered a similar response.
“I said, ‘There’s no way she did it,’ — the same way she’d tell them there’s no way I would do anything like that,” Jeremy said. “I don’t see how anyone could do that to their child.”
The family concluded their 38-minute statement by thanking the hundreds who have showed up and continue to show up — both locally and around the nation — to aid in the search for Jessica. The family also called for that group’s continued help and support.
Sarah described being overwhelmed by the group of volunteers who were bused in to the search area near her Westminster home, saying a nearby parking lot was filled with more cars than it had been for the popular Rocky Mountain Air Show earlier in the year.
“That’s not something I would have every expected,” Sarah said. “I want to thank everyone who helped look for her and is still looking for her.”
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