When I was a kid I watched shows like America’s Most Wanted and Unsolved Mysteries. Those shows had a mood, look, and music that set a certain tone. Robert Stack’s voice, alone, would instill a tremble in my body, a certain fear. True stories of murders, rape, and missing children came and went each week. It was frightening – terrifying even – but the stories seemed to come from a comfortable distance. In my head I imagined that our front door was impenetrable, that my parents were superheros, and that I, myself, was invincible.
Last week, a 10-year old girl went missing on her way to school. Yesterday a body was found. Today it was revealed to be that same girl. Her name was Jessica Ridgeway. There is no point in describing the situation further – the reality cannot be made more resonant through detail.
I’ve followed the case as close as I could, even reaching out to family members in both state and federal law enforcement. Did they have any leads? What are they doing? Are they involved in the search? I’ve sat and hoped, as many have – though many also acted, and took up searching into the night with members of the community.
It began not fifteen minutes from my home in Denver. It is, perhaps, this proximity that has added to the magnitude of the moment. This isn’t a flashback. There is no narration or dramatic music. The comfortable distance I spoke of is non-existent. This is, unfortunately, real life.
Jessica Ridgeway’s picture is posted in the elevator where I work. It is the picture of a child. Her long hair, glasses, and smile give a face to the horrors of this world that so often get muddled together. It is an image we cannot afford to ignore – though I am at a loss at what to do differently. I am not sure what can be suggested without driving all parents into frenzy. I am sure many will look at their own children tonight with different eyes, feeling both lucky and sad.
I have no children. But, I grew up with a younger sister. She is far tougher than me now – but, as a kid, she was my “little” sister. As I got older I began to understand certain things my father did. When she wanted to ride her bike to school, alone, he allowed it. But, unbeknownst to her, we followed a block behind. I asked why we did that, and my father replied, “Because, she’s younger, and she’s a girl.” Maybe gender has nothing to do with it, or maybe it does. My instinct it to say that at that age it does. For a week now I’ve had that image of my little sister, proudly riding her bike to school about a block in front of me, while I sat in the passenger seat of our family car, making sure she was going to get there alright.
My heart and thoughts go out to the family of Jessica Ridgeway.