Opinion: Guarded Jessica Ridgeway search will now become even more guarded
WESTMINSTER, Colo. — If you’re waiting on pins and needles for police to release information on the body they’ve found in Arvada or word on its potential relation to the search for missing 10-year-old Jessica Ridgeway, now might be a good time to stop.
That’s what FOX31 senior investigative reporter Josh Bernstein is saying Thursday morning.
Coming to Denver as an Emmy-winning reporter and former head of the investigative unit at “The Daily” in New York City, Bernstein expects the discovery of a body at the Pattridge Park open space area in Arvada to slow down the information flow in what has already been a very guarded investigation.
“I don’t think we’ll hear much from police in the next two days,” Bernstein said. “If in fact they have found Jessica’s body, we’re not going to hear a whole lot for a while.”
Calling the body “the main piece of evidence police have recovered so far,” Bernstein said authorities will take their time to process it.
“They’re going to have it at the medical examiner’s office, they’re going to swab for sexual assault, they’re going to look for any sort of trace evidence – blood, hair, saliva,” Bernstein said. “They’ll then enter that information into a national FBI database.”
That database is the FBI’s CODIS system, and there are over 9 million people in it. There are over 150,000 individuals in Colorado who are in the system. Also, in Colorado alone, there are over 2,881 cases that have been aided by the CODIS system.
If authorities don’t get a hit right away, Bernstein said the FBI will still log the DNA from the body they’ve found into the database. That means if anyone with matching DNA gets arrested in the coming weeks, months or years, they will be immediately linked to this case.
Time is obviously the biggest factor police face when searching for a missing child, Bernstein said. And that dilemma is two-fold. The first burden is finding the child. If indeed this is Ridgeway’s body that police have found, the second time-based obstacle is finding the person who abducted — and possibly killed — her.
“Is there a killer on the loose?” Bernstein asked. “If there is, every hour that goes by works against police.”
Bernstein said his aforementioned question is one that has been ignored by authorities.
“Very early on, they told everyone to relax. They said, ‘Don’t worry, we don’t believe anyone is out there randomly abducting children,’” Bernstein said. “Now they’ve cleared the family, they’ve cleared other individuals and they’ve found a body that may or may be Jessica. If it is her’s, that means there is a killer on the loose.”
Bernstein also said the area where this body was found raises questions.
Considering the body was recovered just off the roadway and near a culvert, Bernstein asks two questions: Was the body thrown there? Have animals gotten to it?
“Look at that area,” Bernstein continued. “That is a rural area, so police will have the elements working against them. What they’ll do and have done is establish as wide a perimeter as possible and work their way in to see if they can come up with anything.”
Having just moved to Denver, Berstein said he gets the vibe that the Westminster Police Department is not used to getting this kind of media scrutiny. And they have not handled it with as much transparency as many law enforcement agencies that Bernstein has covered in the past.
“They’re not used to having an aggressive media asking them questions,” Bernstein said.
In asking those aggressive questions, Berstein said the media is not trying to be critical of the job law enforcement is doing. If you won’t take his word for it, speak with John Walsh, Bernstein said.
The host of “America’s Most Wanted” and father of an abducted son has stressed to FOX31 the importance of an open communication channel between police and the public when searching for a missing child.
“Making that information public is critical,” Bernstein said. “Were polygraphs used? Who’s been polygraphed? Do you have a suspect? What is that suspect’s description?
“If this is Jessica’s body, you have a dead 10-year-old child. And the police have no suspects? Nobody is in custody? I think the public has a right to know that information at this point.”