WESTMINSTER, Colo. - The search for a missing 10-year-old Westminster girl shifts to Superior after a backpack and water bottle were found. The water bottle had her name on it.
7NEWS reporter Don Champion said police and the FBI are actively pursuing several leads including a report from a neighbor in Jessica's neighborhood that a suspicious van was seen in the area Friday morning.
The discovery of the backpack and water bottle came three days after 10-year-old Jessica Ridgeway vanished on her way to school in Westminster.
A Superior resident sent a listserv e-mail to residents in the town of Superior with the subject line of "backpack found" that said: "Found this morning on the side walk at Andrew Drive and Alpha Court. Water bottle has 'Jessica Ridgeway' name on it. If this is yours come and get it." The resident apparently didn't connect the name to the missing girl and had put out the message to let the owner know where it was.
Another person on the same listserv recognized the name and messaged the poster to call 911.
When police arrived, the backpack was placed in a large paper bag to protect it for later analysis.
An FBI source told Champion that they are trying to narrow down timeline of when backpack was dropped off in the neighborhood. It was apparently sometime overnight Saturday.
The area where the discovery was made is 6.4 miles from where Jessica Ridgeway disappeared.
"The backpack is directly associated with this case," said Westminster police spokesman Trevor Materasso, at a 5:30 p.m. news conference. "We believe the backpack to be Jessica's."
Materasso said anyone with information about Jessica's disappearance should call the Tip Line at 303-658-4336 or email email@example.com.
Police closed off streets in the Rock Creek subdivision so they could bring in a search dog and control traffic in the area. Materasso said a "substantial number" of law enforcement officers would be in the neighborhood Sunday evening.
Checkpoints were set up at the intersections of Andrews Way and Christenson Avenue, Indiana and Bristol streets, and Indiana Street and Eldorado Drive.
"If you live in the Rock Creek subdivision, please do not disturb any items that you may find. Police are currently using bloodhounds and ask that if you have a dog to keep him/her indoors as long as possible," said Materasso. "We also ask that you stay out of the area as long as possible. We apologize for the inconvenience and understand we are asking for a great amount of cooperation."
He asked parents in the area where the backpack was found to ask their children if they saw anything suspicious in the neighborhood, with relation to the backpack.
Christine Wiedinmyer told the (Boulder) Daily Camera that the original tip was e-mailed by one of her neighbors, and she, too, saw the backpack on the sidewalk around 8:15 Sunday morning as she was headed out. She said it didn't really strike her at first because there often are children's bikes or toys left about in the neighborhood.
"It's horrifying," Wiedinmyer told the newspaper, as she waited in a line of cars to get into the subdivision. "I want to get home. My daughters are so worried."
The backpack is the first solid lead police have had since Jessica vanished.
In this type of investigation, a forensic examination of the backpack and contents would be likely conducted to look for possible fingerprints, hair, fibers and DNA that doesn't belong to Jessica.
Police said officers would remain out overnight Sunday, searching for Jessica. They don't anticipate using volunteers on Monday.
Sunday's Search Fruitless
Police said Jessica was last seen walking to Chelsea Park in the area of 107th Avenue and Moore Street around 8:30 a.m. Friday where she was to meet several friends before walking to Witt Elementary School. Jessica's mother stood in the front yard of their home at 10768 Moore St. until her daughter was out of sight.
Jessica never showed up at the park or at school.
On Monday, Witt Elementary will prepare for a very emotional day.
"They're going to have extra counselors there for support of the staff and the students, and they're going to try to make it as normal a school day as possible. But understanding that everybody's hearts are very heavy and worried and taking that into consideration as well. When something like this happens it is just devastating for a staff and they're very emotional about it," said Jefferson County Public Schools spokeswoman Lynn Setzer. "Our emphasis right now is taking care of the students and staff at the school and assisting the police department in any way we can and focusing on getting Jessica back with her family."
Sunday police brought in a new team of search dogs to help look for clues.
Police said they will not be using volunteers to help look for Ridgeway Sunday. About 800 people showed up to help with the search Saturday, said Westminster police spokesman Trevor Materasso.
"This morning I really expected maybe a hundred people, so to have that many, it was just amazing," Materasso said. "I watched one gentleman putting plastic bags on his feet because his feet were soaked through, his shoes were soaked through and he was going back out again."
Buses of volunteers were sent to open spaces in Mayfair, Countryside, Ketner and Chelsea as well as the Westminster Hills Dog Park and Standley Lake.
"It was really emotional because you're looking in ditches and you're looking in culverts and you're looking through sewer drainage pipes. On the one hand again, you're hoping you might find a boot with a pom pom and on the other hand, you're hoping you don't," said volunteer Marsha Orr. "My 7-year old son is such an amazing gift to me. To not know where he was spending a cold night, it would rip my heart out."
A dive team searched Ketner Reservoir Saturday afternoon. The search was "done as a search tool to rule out the lake," police said.
The search area covered on Saturday was from 92nd Avenue to 112th Avenue and from Indiana Street to Wadsworth Boulevard.
Materasso said police will follow up on more than 100 tips.
Authorities have said they don't think Jessica was abducted by an acquaintance or relative. The girl's father lives in Missouri and has been accounted for there.
Jessica's great-grandmother, Donna Moss, said police were at her home where the father was staying Friday night. They asked to search the home and were given permission, she said.
"We'd do anything to get her back, safely alive," Moss said. "We want her back as soon as we can get her."
Westminster police also said they don't think Jessica ran away because she is emotionally stable.
Members of the FBI as well as the Center for Missing and Exploited Children have joined the search.
Police investigators and volunteers collected socks and other clothing items around Chelsea Park on Saturday, police spokesman Trevor Materasso said. The socks were placed in evidence bags to be checked further.
"We can't say at this point whether these are or are not related," Materasso said.
Police also checked every registered sex offender in the area.
Jessica is 4 feet 10 inches tall and weighs 80 pounds. She has blonde, shoulder-length hair with blue eyes. She was last seen wearing blue jeans, black boots with pom poms, a black puffy jacket and pink and purple glasses. She also had a black and pink backpack with a Disney character on it.
Anyone with information on the possible whereabouts of Jessica is asked to call Westminster police at 303- 658-4336 or e-mail PDamberalert@cityofwestminster.us