It was the phone call no parent ever wants to have to make.
On 5 October 2012, Sarah Ridgeway dialled 911 and told the operator that her 10-year-old daughter Jessica was missing.
Jessica – a bespectacled, smiling blonde – was very independent for her age, her mother said. She had her own alarm clock and liked to get up by herself to get ready for school. She’d peel the oranges for her morning snack, eat her granola bar, and fill up her water bottle.
“She wants to make herself look like a grown up,” Sarah told podcast Sword and Scale. “She wants to be a teenager before she’s a teenager.”
That morning, after doing those things, Jessica kissed her mum goodbye and headed out into the snow at 8.35am. She was wearing blue jeans, black boots, a black puffy jacket, and her pink and purple glasses. She started out towards the nearby park where she always met the friend she walked to school with.
But on that day, Jessica did not arrive at Witt Elementary School in the tree-lined suburban town of Westminster, Colorado. She never even showed up to meet her friend.
Teachers left a message with Sarah, letting her know Jessica hadn’t arrived. But Sarah, who worked nights was asleep, delaying that 911 call by several crucial hours.
When she eventually woke up it was 4.30pm. She reported Jessica missing and the FBI began an extensive search.
They knocked on doors, blocked off roads, and urged members of the public to report anything suspicious. An army of 800 volunteers scaled hills and scoured trails nears Jessica’s home.
Two days into the search, they discovered Jessica’s backpack and water bottle 9km away from her home. Then, three days after that, a far grislier discovery: a torso, wrapped in a black plastic bag, dumped in a field.
It was Jessica’s. Where the rest of her body was, nobody knew. Or rather, only one person did.
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“There is a predator at large in our community,” a police officer said in a press conference.
The police had ruled out the family and they didn’t have any other leads. The residents of Westminster – especially those with children – were terrified. Who could do this to an innocent, 10-year-old girl? Was there really evil lurking right on their doorsteps?