WESTMINSTER, Colo. – Police said Tuesday the abduction and killing of a 10-year-old girl in suburban Denver this month is connected to a May kidnapping attempt in which a woman fought off a stranger who grabbed her from behind and put a rag over her mouth that smelled of chemicals.
The 22-year-old woman was jogging when a man attacked her May 28, Memorial Day, authorities said. It happened at a lake near the Westminster elementary school where Jessica Ridgeway was headed when she disappeared Oct. 5.
Jessica's body was found Oct. 10 in a nearby field.
Police didn't say why they believe the two cases are related. But Westminster investigator Trevor Materasso said Tuesday authorities are looking for a suspect in both attacks who they describe as a "light-skinned man" between 18 and his mid-30s of average height and build.
"That's starting to create a black-and-white silhouette that, with evidence, we'll eventually be able to put a face to," Materasso said.
The jogger attack happened at Ketner Lake. Several trails leading to the lake and a surrounding open-space park are across the street from Witt Elementary School, where Jessica was headed when she was abducted.
Police said the man who attacked the jogger put a rag that smelled of chemicals over her mouth, but she managed to fight him off. Materasso said investigators haven't been able to determine if the substance on the rag was meant to subdue the woman.
"It could have been a rag from a garage or something," Materasso said.
Based on the proximity of the two cases, investigators believe the suspect is familiar with the area, either because he lived in the neighborhood in the past, has friends or family there, or has frequented the area for business or recreation.
More than 1,000 officers and 10 agencies, including the FBI, have investigated the case, following up on more than 4,000 leads.
With Jessica's killer still at large, high school students have volunteered to walk younger students to class to keep them safe and more parents are waiting at bus stops with their children and dropping them off at school.
The number of suspected abduction attempts reported to police also has increased, possibly because more children and parents are on alert for suspicious behavior.
Police have not ruled out two child enticement cases reported in Arvada in September or an attempted abduction of a woman Oct. 16 in Aurora.
Authorities also are methodically looking at sex offenders in the neighborhood, both registered and unregistered; reports of lewd or suspicious behavior; and cases involving crimes that have not yet been prosecuted.
"We don't want the community to focus on sex offenders who have cooperated with the law," Materasso said. "We're asking the community to focus on odd behavior."
Information about clues found so far and released to the public include the discovery of Jessica's backpack in Superior, about 7 miles northwest of her house, and a 1-inch by 1 1/2-inch cross that Materasso said is a "pivotal piece" of information.
"We're more focused on both an individual and a cross," Materasso said.
In response to requests from the public, police are working with Metro Denver Crime Stoppers to establish a reward fund for information leading to the arrest of Jessica's killer.