INDEPENDENCE, Mo. - As the Kansas City-area family of a missing Colorado girl prepare for a vigil Wednesday night in Independence, authorities in her hometown near Denver are looking into whether her disappearance could be linked to the abduction of a girl in Wyoming.
Police in the Denver suburb of Westminster say they're aware of the case in Cody, Wyo., and were working with investigators there on Wednesday.
A man lured an 11-year-old Cody girl into a sport utility vehicle on Monday saying he needed help finding his dog. She was released about four hours later and found by hunters.
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Jessica’s family has set the gathering for 6 p.m. in McCoy Park in Independence. Ridgeway's father, Jeremiah Bryant, and great grandmother, Donna Moss, live in Independence.
"It was by far the worst thing I've ever been through a tearful Jeremiah Bryant said Tuesday, surrounded by fellow family members in Denver. “Still is.”
Jessica disappeared after her mother watched her walk off to school Friday morning in Westminster, Colo. Multiple agencies have been searching for her ever since, looking through the girl's home and more than 400 others in suburban Denver.
Jessica’s backpack was discovered Sunday morning six miles from the location where she disappeared. Investigators also say they are looking into reports of a suspicious van in her area last Friday morning.
Bryant and Jessica's mother both admitted how hard the search has been, but made a point of not giving up hope.
"I try to stay positive about it, but yeah, it's hard. It's extremely hard," Bryant said.
After Sarah Ridgeway left her home to go to the interview Tuesday, FBI agents began to search her home .
Bryant said investigators had asked if he believed Sarah had a role in Jessica's disappearance.
"When I sat down with the FBI, they asked if I thought (Sarah Ridgeway) did it. I told them there's, 'no way that I would ever believe that,'" he recounted.
"Nobody in this room did anything to harm her," Sarah Ridgeway said. "If they have to eliminate me, go ahead."
Ridgeway and Bryant aren't married and they have been having a court battle over custody of Jessica. But authorities say Bryant was in Missouri when the girl vanished and they've found no evidence he played a role in her disappearance.
Clearly, the parents are united in the wrenching effort to find Jessica and, during the emotional interview, the parents and the girl's great-aunt all clutched each other’s hands.
"It is not ever, ever anything I want ever any parent to go through and I never would have thought that I would have had to," Sarah Ridgeway said. “But we are a strong family, so I know we will get through this. We will find her and make sure she is well taken care of, like she has always been."
Sarah Ridgeway described her daughter as a girl who likes to do things for herself. She said Jessica took care of preparing herself for school in the morning.
"She wants to be a teenager before she's a teenager," the mother said.
Sarah Ridgeway said she watched her daughter leave for school Friday morning, adding that everything seemed to be normal.
Jessica planned to meet friends at Chelsea Park and continue to Witt Elementary School. Jessica never showed up at the park or at school.
Sarah Ridgeway works nights and said she didn't hear the school call to report Jessica was absent. The first time she knew anything was wrong was sometime after 4 p.m. Friday when she heard the voicemail message the school had left.
Police said they were notified Jessica was missing by her mom around 4:30 p.m. Friday.
"She never misses school. She loves school," the mother said. "I knew when they called and said she hadn't come to school, I knew something was wrong."
Bryant said he found out his daughter was missing on his way home from work Friday. He said he called his grandmother from the road and she told him the police in Colorado were trying to reach him about Jessica.
The family described Jessica as a bright, funny girl who liked to help around the house. Her favorite color, they said, is purple. The family wore green and purple ribbons during the interview.
"Let's all paint the town purple to find her," Sarah Ridgeway said.
"We'll never stop looking. We love her," Bryant said.
Jessica's family asks that anyone who has information or wants to learn more about the case go to www.facebook.com/MissingJessicaRidgeway
Scripps station KMGH and the Associated Press contributed to this report.
Copyright 2012 Scripps Media, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.
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