Just like Sierra LaMar, Jessica Ridgeway disappeared while walking a well-worn route to school. Just like Sierra LaMar, Jessica’s book bag was located two days later. Just like Sierra LaMar, her mother didn’t receive that notification that Jessica hadn’t attended school until late afternoon. In both cases the initial community response was overwhelming. Just like Sierra LaMar, Jessica Ridgeway remains missing.
But there are differences too. Sierra is 15-years-old and Jessica Ridgeway is 10. Sierra was walking to the school bus stop while Jessica was walking to meet friends who would then walk with her to school. Sierra carried a Juicy Couture Bag and Jessica had a child’s backpack. Sierra’s school didn’t notify her family that she wasn’t in school until about 6:00 p.m., but Jessica’s school tried and failed to notify her mother as early as 10:00 a.m. Sierra LaMar has been missing for more than six months while Jessica has only been missing for five days.
These cases aren’t aberrations. Children disappearing en-route to school or at school bus stops is too common. Just last week another 10-year-old girl disappeared after leaving school. Fortunately, she has been found safe. Last year, in Brooklyn, NY 8-year-old Leiby Kletzky was murdered and dismembered after he disappeared walking home alone after school. 7-year-old Orange Park, FL second grader Somer Thompson was kidnapped walking home alone home from school on October 19, 2009. Her remains were found in a landfill several days later. In January, 2007 13-year-old Ben Ownby vanished after getting off of the school bus in rural Missouri. He had been kidnapped by a predator, but was found alive four days later. On November 29, 2005 12-year-old Amber Harris disappeared without a trace after getting off of her school bus in Omaha, NE. Her remains were found many months later. Finally, in the most famous case of all 6-year-old Etan Patz never made it to school near his Manhattan, NY home on May 25, 1979. A suspect has only recently been arrested in that case. I could go on and on and on.
Without belaboring the point, on October 4, the day before Jessica vanished, a man driving a white van in nearby Arvada, CO was reported following and interfering with children walking home from school. The incident was reported to the police and the school principal warned the parents of kids under her care via a robo-call. Two weeks previously, also in Arvada, a man in a blue sedan tried to lure children into his car by offering them candy. Neither of these individuals has been identified or questioned regarding Jessica Ridgeway’s case.
Perverts who live on or near the walking routes or school bus stops know which kids to expect and when to expect them. That creates vulnerability. However, we can minimize school route vulnerability by following a few simple steps. Parents should always show their children the safest routes to and from school. They should always be with at least one other person, an adult if possible. There should be surveillance at school bus stops. This can be addressed in a number of ways. It could be a neighborhood watch program, or something as simple as parents sharing the duty to see their kids leave on the school bus in the morning and return in the afternoon. It could also be a church project. Finally, the unblinking eye of a surveillance camera tells no lies.
The investigation for the gap-toothed girl in the pink and purple glasses hit stride quickly. The authorities issued an Amber Alert despite the fact that they have no vehicle information. Volunteer ground searches were initiated early on. A multi-jurisdictional task force of local, state and federal law enforcement agencies has conducted roadblocks, neighborhood canvas, and a team of search and rescue divers have already searched a local lake, all to no avail. Her school notified the family that she didn’t arrive at school in a timely manner. Unfortunately, her mother, who works nights and was asleep, missed that call.
Will this be enough to bring little Jessica home safely? I certainly hope so, but am unwilling to make a prediction. If her family cooperates with law enforcement and the media, and if the recovered backpack reveals any evidence there is always hope. These are the factors that led to the arrest in Sierra LaMar’s case. Unfortunately, although Sierra has not yet been recovered, the suspect has been charged with kidnapping and murder.