Lassy Project app's 'Village' response tested, leaving Sarah Ridgeway speechless

App alerts parents, neighbors to missing children

DENVER, Colo. - Jessica Ridgeway's mother participated in the test Tuesday of an app designed to provide immediate information and start a community search when a child goes missing, as Jessica did in October 2012.

It was the first time the murdered child's mother, Sarah Ridgeway, saw the results of The Lassy Project's group response.

"It's pretty cool, I don't think I have words," she said.

The Lassy Project is a free app that allows parents to plot routes that their kids commonly take, such as walking to school or going to a friend's house. If the child strays from the designated path, then an alert is immediately sent to the parents' phone.

After getting an alert from the app, the parent can then choose to call the child and investigate. If the child is safe, the parent can dismiss the alert. But if there is a problem, the parent can push a single button to activate "The Village" -- a group of local community members who have registered -- to begin search efforts as soon as possible near the child's last known location. The alert system is designed to be "hyper-local and hyper-sensitive" so only Villagers in the zip code where child goes missing are alerted. However, if the child moves Lassy Project alerts can move with the child, widening the Village search group.

The Lassy Project was designed to protect children.

Co-founder John Guydon says, "the system is extremely secure. In fact, we can't even see the routes that the parents plug into the system. We have no reason to. The only reason that anybody can see the location is if a parent presses 'Escalate.'"

Additional security measures ensure that registered sex offenders cannot receive Lassy's "Village Alerts" when a child is reported missing.

John Guydon said the details of Jessica Ridgeway's disappearance and murder haunted him.

"I just kept thinking about what could have happened differently," he remembered.

Approximately one year ago, he put aside other career opportunities to create an app that would create peace of mind for parents and be a deterrent to possible kidnappers.

As a father of three, this project was personal. He knew the project would also be personal for Sarah Ridgeway, Jessica's mother.

"The biggest message from me to Sarah was: I wanted it to be very, very clear that our sole mission is to prevent this from happening to anyone else," he said.

Today, Sarah Ridgeway is not only a supporter of the Lassy Project, but she plays a critical role behind the scenes at the Lassy Project. She runs the "Escalation Team."

"When the parents do escalate it and say their child is missing, I run the team that answers the phone for that," Sarah explained. "Right now, I am actually answering the phone when they call."

Guydon says Ridgeway's role on the team is invaluable.

"What better person to run the department that deals with parents, who at that time have a missing child, than somebody who has gone through that process?"

"It certainly helps other parents to know I'm not just saying, 'I understand.' I do understand," Ridgeway said.

Marchetta tested the app, by holding the "child's phone" and walking a designated route. Guydon acted as the parent.

When Marchetta went off the charted route for less than 20 yards, an alert went to Guydon's phone. Then, to test the effectiveness of the "Village" in the Beacon Point Community, Guydon pressed the escalate button on his phone.

Registered Village participants in the area were warned an hour in advance that this was a test, but participation in the exercise was still remarkable.

Less than two minutes after the test alert was sent, the first neighbors emerged from their homes. Moments later, several cars drove to the exact location Marchetta went "missing."

As the small crowd gathered, neighbors met one another and talked about how impressed they were that their community rallied so quickly to the alert.

An Aurora police officer was in the crowd that responded and he shared his support of the project.

Ridgeway had never seen an escalation test in practice before. She could only say that she was "speechless" as she saw neighbors respond.

The strength for this work comes from Jessica's memory, Ridgeway said.

"She pushes me, whether she's here or not, I feel her in the background telling me, 'This is what you're supposed to be doing,'" Sarah said.

For mobile users: You can learn more about the Lassy Project at http://www.thelassyproject.com