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Pastor on Jessica Ridgeway's family: 'Strongest people I've met'

9:10 PM, Oct 25, 2012   |    comments
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Rick Long, Lead Pastor and Founder of Grace Church in Arvada, has been with the family from the beginning offering comfort and support.

Long says Jessica's mother, aunt, and grandmother are the strongest people he's ever met.

He says their strength comes, in part, from their neighbors who sent thousands of cards, flooded the family with donations, and created a memorial for Jessica at Chelsea Park near her home.

Long also says the family's strength comes from faith, which allows them to seek justice for Jessica and forgiveness for her accused killer.

"They're so appreciative of the community and so appreciative of everybody uniting for Jessica," Long said.

A time will come when everyone else moves on with their lives, but for Jessica's family, life will never be the same.

"Strongest people I've met," Long said. "They have become a source of strength for a lot of us, because we sit back and go how can you do this? How can you get through this? You don't get over it."

Long came into the spotlight when he gave the sermon during Jessica's memorial, but he had been in touch with the family almost from day one.

"Get to know your neighbors. Care for the people in your community," Long said.

Long helped rally hundreds of church volunteers who searched around the clock for a 10-year-old girl who needed help.

Jessica touched more lives than she would ever know.

"They're very comforted by the fact that she's more alive than she ever was before. That's their words. That's their feeling. But that doesn't bring her back," Long said.

The weeks and months ahead could be the hardest, as details of Jessica's death come out in court.

Police say they have overwhelming evidence against her accused killer, 17-year-old Austin Sigg.

"He went to the same elementary. He lived in the same neighborhood," Long said.

Sigg lived less than a mile and a half away from Jessica's house but Long says, to his knowledge; Sigg never knew the Ridgeway family.

"This is a very twisted, demented individual and he didn't get there overnight. But there's also a mother who is involved here who did something extremely courageous. Instead of hiding this, she spoke up. And we have a community that is safer because she did that," Long said.

Police say Sigg's mother turned him in and gave police permission to question her son.

Long says, Jessica's family is not ruled by hate.

"[They are] talking about forgiveness, talking about moving forward, remembering Jessica's legacy," Long said. "Let's have justice. Let's have justice run its course. I'm sure they are wanting justice more than anything, but they're just not hateful people. I think that's a lesson for all of us to learn to forgive."

Long says a "tremendous" amount of donations are coming in, enough to help the Ridgeway family rebuild their lives and establish several foundations in Jessica's name.

Even on a cold, snowy Thursday evening, onlookers visited Jessica's memorial at Chelsea Park.

One left a note saying "Jessica, you are missed but never forgotten."

(Copyright 2012 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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