Julie Poppen is an editor and writer for Education News Colorado and the mother of a fifth-grader who attends her Boulder Valley neighborhood school.
Where are you Jessica Ridgeway?
I don’t know you, but I know you. My 10-year-old daughter looks quite a bit like you. She wears cute glasses like you do, and has the same color and type of hair, same broad face and spunky demeanor.
Every day I watch her take off on her bicycle bound for school – by herself. She’s in fifth grade. She meets two other girls less than a block away and they ride to school together.
This independence started this year, and I begrudgingly supported it. Our children must test their wings and learn how to navigate the world. But now I find myself back-pedaling in light of your disappearance.
More parents than usual are walking or biking their children to our daughter’s Boulder elementary school this week. And I am among them.
Much to my daughter’s acute embarrassment, I have followed – at a reasonable distance – my daughter and her friends on their bikes. I want to make sure my daughter isn’t doing anything alone at the moment. So, in a few minutes, I will again jump on my bike, pedal to her school and trail her as she rides home.
I don’t want to scare my daughter, but I have told her about you. You were last seen walking the three-block stretch to meet your friends, with whom you should have walked the rest of the way to school Friday. Only you never made it.
As a former daily newspaper journalist, I’ve covered too many horrific tales to count so I’ve seen plenty of the worst-case scenarios. For now, I’m going with the best-case scenario – that you are safe somewhere and this is some kind of family squabble and that all will be revealed soon. But there are things that don’t make me feel so secure – like the bloodhounds, the searching of empty fields, the dumped backpack and water bottle with your name on them.
And the police are making things a bit more confusing by saying they don’t believe a random person is out there nabbing kids on the way to school while simultaneously saying they don’t believe custody issues unfolding in the family have anything to do with your disappearance.
Irrationally, I keep thinking about your backpack and water bottle and how you must be ticked off you don’t have these things with you. I think of all the small things I do with and for my daughter every day – that your mom can’t do with you – at least for the moment. Like praising results on a school quiz, or watching a funny segment of a Disney TV show or biking home with your kiddo as she screams at you to “Go away!”
I’m not sure how long I’ll maintain the extra level of vigilance. Maybe until you’re found safe. Maybe until the end of the week.
I know I’m not the only parent out there with your fate and fear weighing on my mind. Sometimes, knowledge helps – somewhat. The Boulder Valley School District offered these tips for kids walking or biking to school.
But really we must all be vigilant and take care of our community’s children. We need to pay attention to the small things.
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Safe walk-to-school tips
Remind children to:
- Stay with a group.
- If a stranger offers you a ride, say “NO!”
- If a stranger follows you on foot, get away from him or her as quickly as you can. If a stranger follows you in a car, turn around and go the other direction.
- Never leave school with a stranger.
- Tell a trusted adult if a stranger is hanging around the school, playground or public restroom.
- Leave items and clothing that display your name, so that a stranger can read it, at home.
- If you arrive home alone, call your mother, father or other trusted adult to let them know you are home and all right. Keep the door locked, don’t open the door for strangers and don’t tell strangers that you are home alone.
- Never accept things from a stranger.
- If a stranger asks you a question, don’t talk. Run away.
- Don’t go anywhere with a stranger.