(DENVER) — The parents of missing Colorado 10-year-old Jessica Ridgeway spoke publicly for the first time Tuesday and denied any involvement in the disappearance of their daughter, calling her “the rock” in their lives.
“I know I didn’t do anything. Everybody that’s here knows I didn’t do anything,” Jessica’s mom Sarah Ridgeway said, surrounded by 10 family members, including Jessica’s father, Jeremiah Bryant. “Nobody in this room did anything to harm her or a tiny hair on her little head.
“If they have to eliminate me, go right ahead,” she said. “I know it’s something that has to get done. They have to get it out of there.”
Bryant said FBI investigators asked him whether he believed Jessica’s mother could have anything to do with her disappearance, and he said no, as he was sure she had said when asked about him.
“I don’t see how any parent could do something like that to their child,” he said.
Jessica Ridgeway vanished Friday when she left to walk three blocks from her Westminster, Colo., home to meet friends for the walk to school. It was a route she took every day, but this time she never got there.
When Ridgeway didn’t show up for class, school officials called her home, but because Sarah Ridgeway works the overnight shift at a tech company, she was asleep. She didn’t get the message until later, which delayed her calling police.
An Amber Alert was issued Oct. 5 for the 10-year-old, nearly eight hours after she disappeared.
Ridgeway said Jessica loves school and would never miss it, so she knew something was wrong when she got the call. Ridgeway described losing hope little by little as she went to all of Jessica’s favorite places — the park, her friend’s house, school — and discovered that her daughter was not at any of those places.
Police say Jessica’s father, who lives out of state, is in a custody battle with Jessica’s mother. But both parents were present for the interview and held hands with family members from both sides of their families.
They described a bright and happy 10-year-old girl who loved school, especially math and physical education.
Jessica Ridgeway’s backpack and water bottle were found on Sunday, six miles from where she was last seen. Police say the backpack is vital evidence in a case that has precious few leads.
Sarah Ridgeway said the discovery of the backpack and water bottle gave her “a sliver of hope” because she thought that if something “really bad” had happened to her daughter the bag would not be sitting in plain sight.
The Colorado Crime Lab is processing the backpack for possible DNA evidence.
The search for Ridgeway expanded Monday with more than 100 people combing roadsides and rocky terrain. Meanwhile, police are checking reports that three weeks ago a suspicious man was seen approaching children.
The parents both said that they had no idea who could have wanted to harm their little girl and thanked authorities and volunteers for all of their help.
The family said they are holding on to hope and have prepared Jessica’s room for her return, complete with the “nest” she likes to build on the top bunk of her bunk bed — a cozy structure made of a sleeping bag and stuffed animals.
When asked what message she would like to send her daughter, Sarah Ridgeway said, “You know that your family is strong. We’ll be there forever and we will do anything to find you. You are strong. We know you’re strong and you can fight this and we are fighting for you, too. And we love her and we’ll never stop loving her no matter what happens. We’ll lover her forever and ever. We just want her home.”
Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio
Chuck Johnston, CNN Newswire
Ray Sanchez, CNN Newswire