WESTMINSTER - The silence hurts. Somewhere in the back of her mind, Sarah Ridgeway knows her daughter should still be laughing, playing and enjoying every single part of being a fun-loving girl. Jessica would have turned 12 recently. She would have loved the party.
"Every once in awhile, I think this is all a dream, and she's just going to come walking down the street," Sarah Ridgeway told 9NEWS during her first extensive interview since her daughter's body was found in October 2012. "I'm going to wake up, I think, but then I realize that's not going to happen."
Sarah's mother, Christine, still finds herself peeking into the back seat of her car expecting to see Jessica smiling back. Easter is coming up. That was Jessica's favorite holiday. Yet every holiday, from here on out, will be a challenge.
"Jessica didn't set out to be the center of attention," Christine Ridgeway said. "People were just drawn to her."
It was that kind of magnetism that served the Ridgeway family well during the first few hours and days of the search. So many people wanted to help. It was almost overwhelming. The day after Jessica's disappearance, fields close to the family's house quickly became dotted with dozens of strangers hoping to find anything that could point the Westminster Police Department in the right direction.
Lacking anything of significance, however, the Westminster Police Department had no other choice but to point its investigators toward the Ridgeway family. Statistically speaking, it just made a lot of sense. The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children estimates close to 80 percent of all child abductions are done by a family member.
Sarah, her sister Becca, and their mother Christine all submitted to taking lie detector tests early on.
"We said do what you have to do. Polygraph us. Just get us out of the way," Christine recalled. There was only one problem.
Each one of them found it nearly impossible to lie.
"They kept telling us to lie for a baseline. None of us could lie," Christine said.
Eventually all three would pass the tests. Not one of them suspected any family member could have been behind the abduction.
"All of us knew there was nothing any one of us did," Sarah said.
By now, all of Colorado knows what eventually happened to Jessica Ridgeway. With the criminal trial now over, Jessica's family wants the focus to come back on the girl and not the perpetrator.
"We don't remember [Jessica] being this grumpy, mean child," Christine said. "She was never really like that. I mean, she had her moments, but she more often times than not was smiling. She smiled all the time."
They call Jessica their light.
"[Jessica] was put there in my life for a reason. I think she benefitted my life. I know I wouldn't be where I am now if it wasn't for her," Sarah said. "I think she just took the best part of each person [in our family], and that's who she was."
Jessica lived with Christine, Becca and Sarah in their home in Westminster.
"We were the four musketeers. She was our fourth," said Becca.
They credit a larger, extended family for helping them get through this.
"If I would have had to go through this myself, I personally don't think I would have lived through it," Sarah said.
Jessica called Christine, her grandmother, "Pama."
"We would always say, 'Good night, Jessica; I love you Jessica,' and she would say, 'I love you, Pama.' That's sometimes one of the hardest things. There isn't a little voice who says it back. I really miss her," Christine said.
These days, the family remains convinced there is more good Jessica will do in the distant and not-so-distant future. Sarah's work with the Lassie Project remains pivotal to the family's hope that no one ever has to experience what they experienced.
The app for mobile devices allows parents to know immediately when their child has deviated from a particular and routine path. It also allows parents to seek the assistance of people within the immediate area when a child goes missing.
The family has also set up a foundation in Jessica's name: http://bit.ly/1b30ePX. A park in the family's neighborhood now bears her name as well: http://bit.ly/1eri6o1.
The legacy will live on. And so, they say, will the power of a constantly smiling 10-year old girl who loved nothing more than to sing and record herself on her computer.
"It makes my heart grow to know we were the ones who raised her. We must have done something right to make her like that," Sarah said.
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