WESTMINSTER, Colo. -
Five days after Jessica Ridgeway vanished on her way to school, her parents shared stories about the 10-year-old and spoke of their anguish during the search.
"It is not ever, ever anything I want ever any parent to go through and I never would have thought that I would have had to," said Sarah Ridgeway, Jessica's mother.
"But we are a strong family, so I know we will get through this. We will find her and make sure she is well taken care of, like she has always been," the mother said.
"It was by far the worst thing I've ever been through. Still is," said a tearful Jeremiah Bryant, Jessica's father.
Sarah Ridgeway described her daughter as a girl who likes to do things for herself. She said Jessica took care of preparing herself for school in the morning.
"She wants to be a teenager before she's a teenager," the mother said.
Sarah Ridgeway said she watched her daughter leave for school Friday morning, adding that everything seemed to be normal.
Jessica planned to meet friends at Chelsea Park and continue to Witt Elementary School. Jessica never showed up at the park or at school.
Sarah Ridgeway works nights and said she didn't hear the school call to report Jessica was absent. The first time she knew anything was wrong was sometime after 4 p.m. Friday when she heard the voicemail message the school had left.
Police said they were notified Jessica was missing by her mom around 4:30 p.m. Friday.
"She never misses school. She loves school," the mother said. "I knew when they called and said she hadn't come to school, I knew something was wrong."
Bryant, who lives in Missouri, said he found out his daughter was missing on his way home from work Friday. He said he called his grandmother from the road and she told him the police in Colorado were trying to reach him about Jessica.
He and Jessica's mother both admitted how hard the search has been, but made a point of not giving up hope.
"I try to stay positive about it, but yeah, it's hard. It's extremely hard," Bryant said.
Bryant said investigators had asked if he believed Sarah had a role in Jessica's disappearance.
"When I sat down with the FBI, they asked if I thought (Sarah Ridgeway) did it. I told them there's, 'no way that I would ever believe that,'" he recounted.
"Nobody in this room did anything to harm her," Sarah Ridgeway said. "If they have to eliminate me, go ahead."
Ridgeway and Bryant aren't married and they have been having a court battle over custody of Jessica. But authorities say Bryant was in Missouri when the girl vanished and they find no evidence he played a role in her disappearance.
Clearly, the parents are united in the wrenching effort to find Jessica and, during the emotional interview, the parents and the girl's great-aunt all clutched each others hands.
Although her home in Westminster is now full of family and other people, Ridgeway said the home feels quiet and empty without her daughter. She said Jessica's voice is missing.
The family described Jessica as a bright, funny girl who liked to help around the house. Her favorite color, they said, is purple. The family wore green and purple ribbons during the interview.
"Let's all paint the town purple to find her," Sarah Ridgeway said.
"We'll never stop looking. We love her," Bryant said.