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Body of missing 10-year-old Colo. girl Jessica Ridgeway identified

This image provided by the Westminster Colorado Police Department shows Jessica Ridgeway. Authorities looking for the 10-year-old Colorado girl who disappeared days ago after leaving for school are planning to finish scouring open fields and resume searching the fifth-grader's suburban Denver neighborhood on Tuesday, Oct. 9, 2012. (AP Photo/Westminster Colorado Police Department) Uncredited

This image provided by the Westminster Colorado Police Department shows Jessica Ridgeway.
AP Photo/Westminster Colorado Police Department

(CBS/AP) WESTMINSTER, Colo. - Police have identified a body found in a suburban Denver Park as missing 10-year-old Jessica Ridgeway.

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Ridgeway's body was found Wednesday about 7 miles southwest of her home. The remains were found in the Pattridge Park open space area in Arvada, a Denver suburb. The park is located south of the south of the Rocky Flats National Wildlife Refuge, which is known for its abandoned coal mines and often used by road bikers and model airplane flyers. Authorities said the body was not intact, but they did not explain further.

Anxious parents kept close and watched over their children because of potential predator in their midst.

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

Ridgeway began a short walk from her home to Witt Elementary School on the morning of Oct. 5 but never arrived. A massive search by hundreds of law enforcement 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.

The FBI has warned residents that she may have been abducted by someone they know and asking them to be alert for people they know who might have suddenly changed their appearance or uncharacteristically missed work or appointments.

"It could be your boss, it could be your friend, and ultimately it could be your family member," FBI spokesman Dave Joly said. "We suspect someone in the community knows this individual."

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

During the past week, officers have searched homes and yards. They kept guard at crosswalks and photographed cars entering the neighborhood. Mailboxes and trees were encircled by ribbons in Jessica's favorite color, purple.

"I don't feel safe for my daughter anymore, anywhere," said Stacey Oppie, who lives in the neighborhood.

Two months ago, Oppie started letting her daughter play unsupervised with a friend at the park that Jessica customarily passed on her way to school. She doesn't intend to do that anymore.

"We're all a little bit on alert, but it's not fear. We're angry because this is a good neighborhood," Oppie said.

Jessica's disappearance hit close to home for Chelsea Bozsak, a senior at nearby Standley Lake High School, where Jessica's cousin attends classes.

"It's so scary because you never think something like this could happen in your community," Bozsak said.

Courtney Sullivan, also a senior at Standley Lake, said her father spoke to her and her younger brother about Jessica's disappearance.

"He's definitely talked to us about being more careful about our surroundings. You could see why," said Sullivan, a cross-country runner who often uses neighborhood streets. "I'm running in places where there's lights, busy roads, where I can get to someplace if I need to."

Retired FBI behavioral analyst Clinton Van Zandt told The Associated Press that tip-offs about the suspect could include someone suddenly growing a beard, getting a new haircut or other changes in appearance. Other clues might be out-of-character behavior, such as someone detailing a car when he normally would have only washed it, Van Zandt said.

Police have said they don't suspect Jessica's parents, Sarah Ridgeway, who lives with Jessica in Westminster, and Jeremiah Bryant, of Missouri.

The only substantive clue police have disclosed was the discovery of her backpack and water bottle in Superior, about six miles from her home, two days after she disappeared. Police won't discuss what was found in the bag or test results involving it.

  • Crimesider Staff

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