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Authorities: Body is that of missing girl

Oct 13, 2012 - By Thomas Peipert, The Associated Press

Police continue to search for the person who abducted the 10-year-old Colorado girl.

WESTMINSTER, Colo. -- The weeklong search for a 10-year-old Colorado girl became a murder investigation after authorities identified a body found in a suburban Denver park as that of fifth-grader Jessica Ridgeway.

"Our focus has changed from the search for Jessica to a mission of justice for Jessica," Westminster Police Chief Lee Birk said Friday. "We recognize there is a predator at large in our community."

Anxious parents kept close watch over their children. Fueling the frustration: The FBI again urged residents to report any suspicious activity by people they know.

"We want you to look for changes of habits, patterns, peculiar absences of those around you and report it to law enforcement," said Jim Yacone, FBI special agent in charge in Denver.

The U.S. Marshals Service, immigration officials and state Department of Corrections were reviewing registered sex offenders in the area, Yacone said without elaborating.

Investigators have received more than 1,500 tips from the public. Authorities also have searched more than 500 homes and more than 1,000 vehicles but still need the public's help, Yacone said.

Jessica was last seen beginning a short walk from her home to Witt Elementary School on the morning of Oct. 5. She never arrived. A search by hundreds of law officers did not start until hours later because Jessica's mother works nights and slept through a call from school officials saying Jessica wasn't there.

Jessica's backpack was found on a sidewalk in Superior on Oct. 7, some 6 miles northwest of her Westminster home. On Wednesday, authorities discovered a body in Arvada, about 7 miles west of her home. They announced the body was Jessica's on Friday.

Over the week, police said Jessica had been abducted. They don't suspect her parents, Sarah Ridgeway of Westminster, and Jeremiah Bryant of Missouri.

Signs of the tragedy are everywhere in Jessica's neighborhood of modest, two-story homes with single-car garages.

Community members planned a gathering Saturday to celebrate Jessica's life.

Officers have searched homes and yards and guarded crosswalks. They've photographed cars entering the neighborhood. Mailboxes and trees were encircled by ribbons in Jessica's favorite color, purple.

Law-enforcement leaders said they would not disclose more information, saying it would jeopardize the investigation.

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