WESTMINSTER, Colo. (AP/CBS4) — Police said Tuesday the abduction and killing of a 10-year-old girl in suburban Denver this month is connected to a May kidnapping attempt in which a woman escaped from an attacker who grabbed her from behind and put a rag over her mouth that smelled of chemicals.
The 22-year-old woman was jogging when she was attacked by a man May 28, Memorial Day, authorities said. It happened at a lake near the elementary school where Jessica Ridgeway was headed when she disappeared Oct. 5.
Jessica’s body was found Oct. 10 in a nearby field.
Police didn’t say why they believe the two cases are linked. But Westminster investigator Trevor Materasso said Tuesday they’re looking for a suspect in both attacks who they describe as a “light-skinned man” between 18 and his mid-30s of average height and build.
“That’s starting to create a black-and-white silhouette that with evidence, we’ll eventually be able to put a face to,” Materasso said.
The jogger attack happened at Ketner Lake in the Denver suburb of Westminster. Several trails leading to the lake and a surrounding open-space park are across the street from Witt Elementary School, where Jessica was headed when she was abducted.
Police said the attacker put a rag that smelled of chemicals over the jogger’s mouth, but she managed to fight him off. Materasso said investigators haven’t been able to determine if the substance on the rag was meant to subdue the woman.
“It could have been a rag from a garage or something,” Materasso said.
Based on the proximity of the two cases, investigators believe the suspect is familiar with the area, either because he lived in the neighborhood in the past, has friends or family there, or has frequented the area for business or recreation.
More than 1,000 officers and 10 agencies, including the FBI, have investigated the case, following up on more than 4,000 leads.
With Jessica’s killer still at large, high school students have volunteered to walk younger students to class to keep them safe and more parents are waiting at bus stops with their children and dropping them off at school.
The number of suspected abduction attempts reported to police also has increased, possibly because more children and parents are on alert for suspicious behavior.
Police have not ruled out two child enticement cases reported in Arvada in September or an attempted abduction of a woman Oct. 16 in Aurora.
Authorities also are methodically looking at sex offenders in the neighborhood, both registered and unregistered; reports of lewd or suspicious behavior; and cases involving crimes that have not yet been prosecuted.
“We don’t want the community to focus on sex offenders who have cooperated with the law,” Materasso said. “We’re asking the community to focus on odd behavior.”
Information about clues found so far and released to the public include the discovery of Jessica’s backpack in Superior, about 7 miles northwest of her house, and a 1-inch by 1 1/2-inch cross that Materasso said is a “pivotal piece” of information.
“We’re more focused on both an individual and a cross,” Materasso said.
Police remain very confidential about the case. They said that is because they do not want inaccurate information in the hands of the public.
Westminster Police Ridgeway Case Tip Line: (303) 658-4336 or firstname.lastname@example.org
Jessica Ridgeway Murder Timeline
– Jessica Ridgeway, 10, disappeared on her way to school on the morning of Oct. 5. After leaving home on foot, she never met up with friends she normally walks to school with at Chelsea Park. The park is about three blocks from her home and about a mile from the school.
– When she didn’t arrive at Witt Elementary School in Westminster, Jefferson County Schools officials tried to contact her mother. They made a call at 10 a.m. but were only able to leave a voicemail. Ridgeway’s mother, who works an overnight shift and sleeps during the day, didn’t get the message until 4:30 p.m. and immediately contacted Westminster police.
– It took about five hours before the protocols were met in the case for the Colorado Bureau of Investigation to call an Amber Alert.
– Ridgeway’s backpack was found on the sidewalk near Alpha Court and Andrew Drive in the Rock Creek neighborhood in Superior. That’s 6.4 miles away from her home. It’s unknown so far at what point the backpack wound up there.
– The CBI analyzed the backpack for DNA evidence and collected evidence from Ridgeway’s home for comparison.
– Searches were taking place around Jessica’s home and her school, as well as in open space areas in Westminster. Another area that underwent an extensive search was Rock Creek and open space areas near there.
– A day after their tearful televised plea for help and thanks to the community, police on Oct. 10 ruled out Ridgeway’s parents as being involved in her disappearance. Police said Ridgeway may have been abducted by an unknown suspect.
– Late in the day on Oct. 11 Ridgeway’s body was found in Arvada on Highway near Pattridge Park Open Space and Highway 93, about seven miles from Ridgeway’s home.
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