JonBenet Ramsey's Father Regrets Letting Her in Pageants, Says 'Toddlers and Tiaras' Is 'Bizarre'
JonBenet Ramsey would be 21 years old if she were alive today. Instead, she will forever be the 6-year-old beauty queen, frozen in time, hair coiffed and in full make-up.
But that's not the JonBenet her father John Ramsey remembers. He remembers something of a tomboy, who loved to hike and play with her older brother, Burke.
"I see her, you know, in shorts and t-shirt and hair kind of scruffy and just kind of a kid," he said.
In fact, with hindsight, Ramsey has a fascinating view of today's child beauty pageant "Tiger moms," who parade their daughters on the hit TLC show, "Toddlers and Tiaras." Ramsey said he never sat and watched the show, but he has caught snippets of it, which he said he finds disturbing.
"It's very bizarre," he says outright. "And, it certainly- Patsy and JonBenet didn't approach it that way. We- they just did it for fun."
Ramsey said he remembers his little girl in a parade, just days before JonBenet was found killed in the basement of the family's Boulder, Colo., home on Dec. 26, 1996.
"Patsy had her sitting atop a friend's convertible in the Christmas parade waving at the people lining the streets," Ramsey recalled. "Patsy's mother later told me that a strange man approached the car during the parade and it made her uncomfortable. I think about these things now and it makes me cringe. We were so naïve. I now believe with all my heart that it's not a good idea to put your child on public display."
Patsy Ramsey was a beauty queen herself and JonBenet very much wanted to take part in pageants after seeing her mother on stage at a pageant reunion, John Ramsey said, but letting his daughter compete in pageants is something he regrets.
"Only because- that possibly might have drawn attention to us," he said. "I don't know. But- I think for- for advice to a parent is just recognize that- regardless of where you live, there- there could be evil around you. And- and don't be naive about it. And keep your kids protected."
Almost anyone over the age of 20 probably remembers the notorious case of JonBenet Ramsey's death, which remains unsolved. It was the morning after Christmas 1996. Her family found a horrifying ransom note, threatening to kill her if they didn't pay $118,000, which was a seemingly odd amount.
Police were called and descended on the Ramseys' house, but before long, John Ramsey, the well-to-do executive, made a shocking discovery - JonBenet's body.
"When I found her it was a rush of relief." Ramsey said. "And then of course within moments, I realized that she probably was dead. But she was back in my arms."
Within hours, the Boulder police began treating the Ramseys, especially John, as suspects. Ramsey said he got a tip from a caller inside the Boulder police department, telling him they were targeting him and he should get a lawyer. When the investigation was leaked to the press, it sparked a media frenzy.
"I had 24-hour-a-day cameras outside of our house for, gosh, a year, probably," he said.
There were tantalizing clues around the house - a footprint, a broken window, some DNA evidence - all sparking wall-to-wall tabloid coverage of the case. When asked if he thinks JonBenet's killer could still be at large, Ramsey said, "I believe he is."
"He's either alive, dead or in prison, and one of those three," he said.
John is remarkably free of bitterness when it comes to talking about the investigation. The only time he gets worked up is at the thought that the Boulder police's rush to judgment may have allowed the killer to hurt others.
"That rests squarely on the shoulder of Boulder police," he said.
It would take 12 years before the Boulder district attorney's office completely cleared the Ramseys of any wrongdoing in their daughter's slaying, and issued an apology in 2008. But in the meantime, John Ramsey's reputation was ruined and he had lost his thriving business. JonBenet's mother, Patsy Ramsey, died of ovarian cancer at age 49 in 2006.
In his newly released book, "The Other Side of Suffering," John Ramsey talks about his incredible journey from grief to hope. He recounts how deeply his faith helped him navigate course from suffering to forgiveness.
While no one would blame him for being angry or bitter, "I was for a time," Ramsey said. "But you can't stay there. It's damaging to you as a person."
Watch ABC's Juju Chang's full interview with John Ramsey on " Nightline" TOMORROW at 11:35 p.m. ET/PT