By Keith Coffman
WESTMINSTER, Colo. (Reuters) - A Colorado teenager has been arrested on suspicion of abducting and killing a 10-year-old girl who disappeared on her way to school and was later found dismembered, a crime that left Denver-area parents gripped with fear, police said on Wednesday.
Jessica Ridgeway vanished on October 5 in the Denver suburb of Westminster, and a man reported finding her backpack on a sidewalk in front of his house two days later, 6 milesfrom where she was last seen.
Police later confirmed that mutilated remains discovered in a park about 10 miles from the Ridgeway home belonged to the missing girl.
The 17-year-old suspect, Austin Sigg, a Westminster resident whom investigators believe also tried to abduct a jogger in May of this year near the girl's home, was taken into custody on Tuesday evening, police said.
Police said they were led to Sigg's home by a phone call but did not elaborate on the nature of the tip.
"We notified the Ridgeway family this morning of this arrest, and we hope and pray that this arrest gives them some measure of closure in dealing with this horrible tragedy and loss that they have suffered," Westminster Police Chief Lee Birk told reporters at a press conference on Wednesday.
Members of Sigg's family were not immediately available for comment. The youth's home was cordoned off with crime-scene tape on Wednesday, preventing reporters from approaching the house.
Jessica's kidnapping and slaying drew national media attention and terrified parents in Westminster and surrounding areas, leading them to walk or drive their children to and from school and to keep youngsters from playing outdoors unattended.
EASING THE TRAUMA
Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper said in a statement that "every parent in every Colorado community will rest a little easier tonight" following the arrest.
Lynn Setzer, spokeswoman for the Jefferson County School District, said Sigg was enrolled as recently as July in a vocational school where he earned a high school equivalency diploma.
Two 17-year-old girls who said they had attended a regular high school with Sigg described him as a member of the so-called Goth crowd of students who dressed in dark clothing and congregated in the back of the cafeteria at lunchtime.
Rachel Bradley called Sigg "very different" and said he spent a lot of after-class time in the school's computer lab. Sarah Moravec added, "And when you talked to him, you could tell he wasn't very happy."
Both girls were present at a makeshift memorial for Jessica in her neighborhood.
In March Sigg placed second in a crime scene investigation contest held by the Health Occupation Students of America leadership conference, according to a notice submitted at the time on the Denver Post's neighborhood news website.
A police custody report showed Sigg was enrolled recently at a community college in suburban Denver. A spokeswoman for the state's community college system said officials there were cooperating with police, but did not comment further.
Investigators had in recent days linked Jessica's killing to the attempted abduction in May of a jogger, a 22-year-old woman. In that incident, a man placed a chemical-soaked rag over her mouth but she managed to escape.
Sigg was due to appear in court on Thursday to face charges of murder, kidnapping and attempted murder, according to the custody report.
Sigg would not face the possibility of the death sentence if convicted. The U.S. Supreme Court in 2005 abolished the death penalty for those convicted of committing a crime while under the age of 18.
(Reporting by Keith Coffman; Writing by Alex Dobuzinskis; Editing by Steve Gorman and Xavier Briand)