Authorities think Colo. girl was abducted

DENVER (AP) — The sudden disappearance of an 11-year-old Colorado girl took yet another turn Wednesday, with authorities saying they believe she was abducted.

The case has seen many twists since Jessica Ridgeway disappeared Friday. Police initially said the public did not need to fear a kidnapper — then said the case might be related to that of another girl who was abducted for several hours Monday in Wyoming.

On Wednesday afternoon, police changed course more definitively, saying they believe Jessica was kidnapped by an “unknown suspect.” They also ruled out her parents as suspects.

Adding to the mystery was a reported sighting more than 2,000 miles away in Maine, in a car with Colorado license plates.

Amid it all, there’s no sign of Jessica, the fifth-grader with blond hair and glasses who loved math and gym class and who vanished on what should have been a short walk to school.

Police in the Denver suburb of Westminster repeatedly have urged the public to study the details of Jessica’s face in a photo — a small, gap-toothed grin, a slight bruise on her nose — and a short home video, in hopes they may have seen something or come across the girl. They’ve thanked thousands of Coloradoans and others for helping with a search they have insisted is focused on the area surrounding Jessica’s home.

For days, police only hinted at the possibility of a kidnapping. But at a news conference Wednesday, Westminster police spokesman Trevor Materasso said authorities believe the girl was abducted by an unknown suspect.

He also said the investigation’s focus is not the girl’s parents, who are cooperating.

“We’re confident they are not involved in Jessica’s disappearance,” Materasso said.

Just one day earlier, investigators organized, at police headquarters, a TV interview with Jessica’s parents, Sarah Ridgeway of Westminster and Jeremiah Bryant of Independence, Mo. While it was being conducted, an FBI evidence team went into Jessica’s home one more time for unspecified reasons.

The only real clue police have revealed is the discovery over the weekend of a backpack and water bottle that Jessica had with her when she disappeared. The items were found in the town of Superior, some 6 miles from her home. Police won’t discuss what was found in the bag or testing results on it.

In Dexter, Maine, 2,000 miles east, a woman reported seeing a girl who looked like Jessica on Sunday, in a blue Buick station wagon with Colorado license plates. Authorities issued a statewide alert for officers to stop any blue Buick station wagons with Colorado plates, Dexter police Sgt. Alan Grinnell said.

The lead is one of hundreds being investigating from at least five states. Citizens also have passed on tips from Maryland, Texas, Nevada and Wyoming, Materasso said.

Sarah Ridgeway said her daughter woke up at 7:45 a.m. Friday as usual and ate a granola bar before leaving to meet friends at a park about a block away for their walk to Witt Elementary School. Police say Sarah Ridgeway, a night-shift worker, was asleep and missed a call from school reporting Jessica absent. She got the message when she woke at about 4 p.m., eight hours after she said her daughter left the house.

Sarah Ridgeway checked the park, Jessica’s friends and the school before calling police. Jessica never even met her friends that morning.

Police also searched Bryant’s home in Missouri, where Bryant was at work on Friday, before he traveled to Colorado to be with Jessica’s family.

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