Jessica Ridgeway: Parents Deny Involvement in Disappearance

PHOTO: Jessica Ridgeway, a 10-year-old girl, is shown in this image provided by the Westminster Colorado Police Department, went missing Oct. 5, 2012.
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The parents of missing Colorado 10-year-old Jessica Ridgeway spoke publicly for the first time today 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.

Sarah Ridgeway talked about her daughter's typical daily routine. Her alarm would go off at 7:45 a.m. and she would go downstairs, watch TV, eat a granola bar and go back upstairs to get dressed. When she came back down, mother and daughter would peel oranges for Ridgeway's school snack and fill up her water bottle.

"She wants to be a teenager before she's a teenager," Sarah Ridgeway said. "I watch her walk out the door and I shut the door and that's the last time I saw her ... walking through that door. I need to walk back through the door."

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.

"Then you get the pit in your stomach that you don't want any parent to ever experience in their whole entire life," she said through sobs.

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.

"She's all of our rock. She's the one that when you're kind of down she's going to come along and she's going to make you laugh, she's going to give you a hug, she's going to give you a kiss," Ridgeway said. "She was the light of the house. With all the people there, it's still too quiet. It's way too quiet. It needs to be lively and happy again."

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.

"It's a piece, but at this time we have nothing to say that is related to the disappearance of Jessica," Westminster Police Department spokesman Trevor Materasso said.

Police and FBI agents are still urgently going door-to-door in Ridgeway's neighborhood asking people to search their vehicles, yards and homes. Police asked a neighbor named William Kesel to let them search a locked room in his home to make sure the missing girl wasn't in there.

"They had to rule us out, and they got to rule that room out," Kesel said.

ABC News obtained exclusive video this morning that Ridgeway filmed herself last May playing with a video camera and the family dog.

"That's where the camera is. See?" she can be heard saying. "Right there, look. That's the camera."

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 holidng 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 bunkbed -- 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."

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