2,000 attend memorial service for Jessica Ridgeway at Faith Bible Chapel

Jessica remembered with love, laughter and tears

WESTMINSTER, Colo. - More than 2,000 people remembered 10-year-old Jessica Ridgeway Tuesday night with expressions of love and laughter, tears and music.

The memorial for the slain Westminster girl began with a slideshow of a smiling Jessica with her mother, father and other loved ones set to Jessica's favorite songs, including "Call Me Maybe" by Carly Rae Jepsen.

Many mourners wore purple, Jessica's favorite color.

Gov. John Hickenlooper, wearing a bright purple shirt, told the gathering at Faith Bible Chapel in Arvada that his son, like Jessica, was also 10 years old.

He urged the community to overcome the "darkness" of the girl's death by following the joyful light that Jessica shared with everyone around her.

"The challenge is to make sure that we see that light, follow that light," Hickenlooper said, pointing to the hundreds of volunteers who searched tirelessly in the rain and cold for the girl after she disappeared on Oct. 5.

He talked about the hundreds of law enforcement officers who "are just committing their entire being to Jessica" by working around the clock to find her killer and bring her justice.

"I think the challenge for each of us is to make sure that we ... embrace our responsibility to remember her and celebrate her -- not just today. But to make sure that … her family and extended family have all of the support that we can extend them," the governor said.

Grace Church Pastor Rick Long described how the happy, loving girl was the light of her family's life.

"Jessica was the most joyful part of her home," Long said family members told him.

"A consistent statement that I've heard from everyone in the family was that Jessica cared for everybody," Long said.

He described Jessica as a girl who had two fish, two frogs. And, like many kids, she loved to watch Disney Channel shows like "Shake It Up" and "The Wizards of Waverly Place."

Westminster Police Chief Lee Birk told the gathering that many investigators couldn't be there tonight because they're "working around the clock on this case."

Birk said his officers didn't have the honor to know Jessica during her life.

"But I can honestly tell you we feel like we did," Birk said. "We feel that she's part of our family and we feel like we've lost part of our family."

"I want to leave you with an assurance that law enforcement is working this case tirelessly, diligently and we are committed until we achieve justice for Jessica," the chief said to cheers.

"We have been amazed by the strength of the Ridgeway family, Jessica's family," Birk said, "and we have actually drawn strength from you and you have encouraged us to do our task."

"We wish you peace and we extend our love," the chief said

Friends and family members recalled Jessica as a silly, normal girl who loved to dance and "shake her booty," tell knock-knock jokes and paint her face in blue and green makeup.

"Jessica was one of the happiest kids I've ever known," said family friend Beverly Sternberg, choking back tears. "She loved to play with kittens and beat up her cousins."

Sternberg recalled Jessica coming with her grandma to softball games with a bag of pistachio nuts and urging Sternberg to lick one of the nut shells she'd been sucking on.

"I, of course, shook my head and gave her a funny look," the woman said. "But she proceeded to tell me that this particular shell was delicious and I had to try it."

"Jessica then … opened another nut, licked the shell and handed it to me," Sternberg said to laughter from the crowd.

"She brought light to everyone's lives and she had a profound impact on everyone she met," the friend said.

It was easy for people to see "how cherished and loved our baby girl was," Sternberg said.

Jessica's aunt, Becca Ridgeway, said, "We're not here to mourn the death of Jessica, but to celebrate her life -- though it was short and sweet."

"We cannot carry the hatred with us, for it only it only causes hatred," the aunt said.

Family friend Heidi Caswell asked those gathered to carry an image with them.

"Up in heaven right now, there's a beautiful little girl looking down on everyone, flying with her silver wings, wrapping her family in those wonderful wings like she will every single day," Caswell said. "Unfortunately she was taken away way too soon."

Jessica great aunt, Gay Moore, said she wasn't going to say that Jessica was a perfect little girl.

"Jessica was an ordinary little girl, brought up by an ordinary family," Moore said. "She argued with us. She didn't want to take a bath. She didn't want to go to bed on time."

"But she touched all of our lives in a special way, just by being who she was," the aunt said.

"I wish we could go back to being that ordinary family. I wish we could go back to the days when her mother and her grandmother called her repeatedly to get out of bed to go to school," Moore said.

"But we can't and we are going to move forward into our new normal. We'll be a strong family as we always have been."

Moore thanked "the people, who searched, donated food, made signs and held candlelight vigils and prayer services."

"We can't say thank you enough to the Westminster police, the FBI and the many agencies who worked so hard to find our scared little Jessica and who are now determined to find her killer," Moore said.

"We support you, salute you," she said.

Pastor Long urged community members to continue to rally in support of the Ridgeway family.

"I want to challenge all of you that this is just the beginning of the outpouring of love that this family needs from our community. You do not get over the loss of a loved one, but you especially do not get over the loss of a child," Long said.

"I implore you to pray for this family, care for them, reach out to them, support them in the days, weeks, months and years to come," Long said.

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