With the sun shining bright and children laughing, the community of Westminster and the Ridgeway family celebrated the dedication of the Jessica Ridgeway Memorial Park on Saturday, Oct. 5, the one-year anniversary of Jessica’s disappearance.
Hundreds of people wearing purple, Jessica’s favorite color, came together to honor the life of Jessica and her legacy, which will be remembered by a park created and built in the 10-year-old’s name and memory.
On Oct. 5, 2012, Jessica was kidnapped and later killed by Austin Sigg, 18, who recently pleaded guilty to charges including first-degree murder and kidnapping. Her disappearance sparked a massive search with hundreds of community volunteers and 75 law enforcement agencies working around the clock to bring Jessica home. Days later her remains were found in an open space area and in the crawl space of Sigg’s home.
One member of law enforcement particularly invested in the case was Westminster Police Chief Lee Birk, who dedicated many hours for the past year to achieve justice for Jessica. During the dedication ceremony he held back tears describing how Jessica’s life has taught the community to love and care more, and although he had never met Jessica, himself and several other law enforcement would agree that they were profoundly touched by Jessica and came to feel as though she was their own daughter.
“Jessica brought out what is good and right in people in our community. This park is part of Jessica’s legacy, but what it really signifies is the lessons Jessica taught us,” he said. “She taught us that family is important, we all should be better neighbors and community members and we all should care and love more because life is short and these things are what are most important.”
Westminster Mayor Nancy McNally spoke about the strength of the Ridgeway family and how through them, the community is able to mend. She said the Ridgeway family has been a rock for the community, but also reminded the family that the community can also be their supporting rock.
“To Sarah, Rebecca and the rest of the Ridgeway family, as you have moments if you question if you are alone, I hope you look out right now out and take a snapshot that can come to you just by shutting your eyes and remember that this community stands behind you and made possible the Jessica Ridgeway Memorial Park,” McNally said.
For months work has been done on the park, which was formerly known as Chelsea Park, at 10765 Moore St., by many volunteers and city staff and is now open to the public. Its design is a reflection of Jessica, including the color purple and a teeter-totter resembling a giant green dragonfly, an insect she was studying for a project at school before she died. There is also a large butterfly sculpture at the front of the park, which according to former classmate Layla Iverson it’s a perfect fit because Jessica was fascinated by butterflies.
Although Jessica’s mother Sarah Ridgeway didn’t speak during the ceremony, Jessica’s grandmother, Christine Ridgeway did. She encouraged all of Jessica’s classmates in the crowd to run along, and play in the beautiful new park because “Jessica would not want you here mourning her.” She thanked the community for their support, even though many didn’t even know the Ridgeway family.
“I see people who helped create a park full of Jessica’s smiles and love,” she said. “What I don’t see is a place that is a reminder of what happened to Jessica, but a place of fun. My heart is filled with joy because Jessica’s laughter will be echoing here forever, so thank you.”
The official ceremony ended with the release of 10 balloons by the Ridgeway family in honor of Jessica’s 10 years of life, but the celebration of her was just beginning. As balloons floated up to the sky, youngsters ran to the playground with smiles on their faces and energy in their shoes, jumping, swinging and climbing, enjoying a park that will always be a reminder of a little girl who loved her family, the color purple, butterflies and animals.