Jessica Ridgeway left her Westminster, Colorado home around 8:30 am Friday, 5 October 2012, and began her regular solitary walk to a park three blocks away. She always met some friends there and they would then walk to school. Her friends say she never arrived that day. It wasn’t until the following Wednesday that her body was found in an open area some 7 miles west of her home. No arrests have been made as of Monday 15 October.
Wednesday, 24 October: Westminster Police announce the arrest of a 17-year-old Arapahoe Community College student, Austin Reed Sigg, in connection with the abduction, rape and murder of Jessica Ridgeway. Neither the Dru Sjodin National Sex Offender Public Website (composite of all state sites) or the Colorado Bureau of Investigation Convicted Sex Offender Site identified Austin Sigg as a threat to public safety. The Colorado site does indicate there are more than 230 convicted sex offenders living within 10 miles of Jessica’s home.
Law enforcement and media pundits advise parents to check the sex offender registry to make sure your child isn’t lost in a tragic scenario similar to those which follow. The public registries were established in response to the abduction, sexual assault and murder of Megan Kanka by a twice convicted sex offender living across the street from her home. “Megan’s Law” is based on the concept that if her parents had known a sex offender lived near them, they would have kept closer watch on her activities. That rationale has led many parents into a false sense of security.
“I want to be able to let my kids go outside and play and not worry”(Amanda Nolen)
“I checked a registry and didn’t see any [sex] offenders living near my home so now I feel liberated to allow my six-year old to walk down to the park a few blocks away and play as much as she wants without inconveniencing me.” (“Snarky Little Snot”)
“I also felt relief knowing that none of them live on the street where I allow my children to play every single day.” (Mandy Robinson)
There is no evidence to support such confidence as expressed by these parents. Several states have compared records of sex crimes from up to ten years prior to the implementation of these laws through the ten years after. None could show any decrease in the sex crime rate or convicted sex offender repeat crime rate attributable to sex offender management laws. California and New York separately found that at least 90% of persons arrested for sex crimes had no prior convictions for a sex crime! If they have not been convicted, they won’t be on any registry and you will not know to watch them. Additionally, Minnesota reported finding that most previously convicted sex offenders who repeated sex crimes traveled away from their residence to avoid recognition.
The following reviews illustrate how such confidence in registries can become disastrous. The first four took place before public registries were established so it is possible the outcome could have been influenced by a registry. In every case, closer parental or care-giver supervision would have averted tragedy.
Etan Patz was six when stepped proudly out of his house that Friday morning. He finally had permission to walk the two blocks to his school bus stop by himself like his other friends. That was 25 May 1979 and thirty-three years later, Stan and Julie Patz still don’t know what happened to him.
Adam Walsh’s mother let him stay at a video game display while she shopped for lamps just a few feet away that 27 July 1981. She couldn’t have been out of sight for more than ten minutes, but that was the last she ever saw of her six year old. His remains were found two weeks later. In 2008, Ottis Toole was pronounced the most likely suspect, but he had died in prison in 1996. He had not been charged with Adams murder though he had been convicted of six others (adults) and was serving six life sentences. When Adam disappeared, he had not been convicted of any sex crime.
Jacob Wetterling was headed home with his brother and a friend that evening of 22 October 1989. His parents had given them permission to ride their bikes to a convenience store about two miles away to rent a movie and get some snacks. A man with a gun stopped them, told the other two to run, and eleven year old Jacob was never seen again.
Jaycee Dugard was walking to her school bus stop on June 10, 1991 when the grey sedan passed her, turned around almost in front of her home and went back. A woman got out, grabbed the eleven year old and the car sped away. Jaycee’s step-father was watching from their driveway but he couldn’t get the license number. On 26 August 2009 she was recovered with her two daughters from the home of convicted sex offender Phillip Garrido. He had traveled 114 miles to find a victim.
Megan Kanka’s parents let her go across the street to a friends home after dinner that evening of 29 July 1994. If the seven year old’s parents had been watching, convicted sex offender Jessie Timmendequas, who lived next door to her friend, wouldn’t have been able to kidnap and murder her.
Samantha Runnion was five years old when she was kidnapped from her front yard on 15 July 2002 while Grandma was inside their home. Two days later, her body was found lying in a ditch on a rural road 50 miles from home. Alejandro Avila, who was later convicted and sentenced to death for her murder, had never been convicted of any sex crime before. Even if he had been, he lived some 40 miles away and probably wouldn’t have been considered a threat.
Carlie Brucia lied that Sunday morning, 1 February 2004, and said her mother was ok with her walking home after spending the night with a friend. She was last seen in a car wash’s security video walking across the lot when a man grabbed her hand and led her off camera. Five days later her body was found in a wooded area behind a church. Joe Smith, convicted of her murder and sentenced to death, had never been convicted of any sex crime.
Ben Ownby, 13 years old, got off his school bus that Monday afternoon, 8 January 2007, but never made it home. A friend’s description of a pickup truck led to Ben’s rescue at the home of Michael Devlin, some 49 miles away in Kirkwood, Missouri. When FBI agents went to Devlin’s home four days later, they found Ben and another boy, Shawn Hornbeck. Shawn had been kidnapped in Richwoods, Missouri on 6 October 2002 while riding his bicycle to visit a friend. Devlin, who had no prior sex crime convictions, had traveled about 54 miles from his home to take Shawn.
Somer Thompson usually walked home from school with her brother, sister, and some friends. On 19 October 2009 the seven year old got into an argument and ran ahead of the group, around the corner and out of sight. Her body was found two days later in a Georgia landfill. There were 161 sex offenders listed as living within 10 miles of her home but Jarred Harrell wasn’t one of them because he had never been convicted of a sex crime. He pled guilty to her murder and was sentenced to life in prison.
Jorelys Rivera was playing with some friends at the apartment playground that Friday 2 December 2011. The teenage sitter let the seven year old go back to the apartment, alone, to get some drinks. She wasn’t seen again until her brutalized body was pulled from a nearby dumpster on the following Monday. Ryan Brunn confessed to the crime. He had never been convicted of any sex crime before murdering Jorelys so no registry could have warned anyone he posed a threat.
From what we know, only Megan might have been protected by the law named after her. Jaycee Dugard’s kidnapper lived 114 miles away and would not have shown up on a local search. The persons responsible for Etan’s and Jacob’s abduction is unknown so whether Megan’s Law would have been effective in those cases cannot be determined. No restraint or regulatory measure applicable to convicted sex offenders could have protected any of the other children because none of their abductors were convicted sex offenders.
I have raised five, I was lucky nothing ever happened to them. I know they can “escape”, I know you may not always be able to stay by their side no matter how hard you try. But the more you do, the fewer of these tragedies will be told.
And lastly, because this is what should be foremost in your mind when you finish reading, you must stay close to your Heavenly Father and rely on the spirit to protect your children always, especially when you can’t. If you allow Him, He will inspire you and “fill in the gaps”. You cannot do anything more important for your children.
Amanda Nolen: “Cocoa Communities work for safer areas”; Florida Today, 08/28/2011
Snarky Little Snot: Comment to “Va. Beach schools ditch visitor screening system” The Virginian-Pilot 09/12/2011 at 11:28pm.
Mandy Robinson: Author “Family Watchdog Helps Protect Our Families and Children Against Sex Offenders” 11/29/2010 Associated Content from Yahoo.
Several States AND New York: Sandler, Jeffrey C.; Freeman, Naomi J.; Socia, Kelly M.; “Does a watched pot boil? A time-series analysis of New York State’s sex offender registration and notification law.”, Psychology, Public Policy, and Law, Vol 14(4), Nov 2008, 284-302.
California: California Sex Offender Management Board. “An Assessment of Current Management Practices of Adult Sex Offenders in California; Initial Report”, January 2008
USDOJ: Howard N. Snyder, Ph.D., “Sexual Assault of Young Children as Reported to Law Enforcement: Victim, Incident, and Offender Characteristics.”. U.S. Department of Justice, Bureau of Justice Statistics, A NIBRS Statistical Report.
Travel: Minnesota Department of Corrections, “Residential Proximity & Sex Offense Recidivism in Minnesota”, April 2007
Etan Patz: Lisa R Cohen, “What Happened To Etan Patz“, New York Magazine, New York 2009
Adam Walsh: John Walsh, “Tears of Rage“, Pocket Books, New York, New York, 1997, pg 44
Jacob Wetterling: http://www.jwrc.org/WhoWeAre/History/JacobsStory/tabid/108/Default.aspx
Jaycee Dugard: Karen S. Schneider, “Too Cruel A Theft“, People Magazine 25 November 1991
Megan Kanka: William Glaberson, “On The Block – Special Report; At the center of Megan’s Law Case, A Man No One Could Reach”, The New York Times, 28 May 1996
Samantha Runnion: Barbara Whitaker, James Barron; “Sheriff Issues Alert After California Girl Is Found Killed”, New York Times, 18 July 2002
Carly Brucia: Robert Echart; “Florida Girl Abducted on Video Is Found Dead, Mechanic With Criminal Record Is Charged”, The New York Times, 7 February 2007
Ben Ownby: Associated Press; “Boy, 13, Missing and Feared Kidnapped in Eastern Missouri”, foxnews.com, 10 January 2007
Shawn Hornbeck: Troy Roberts; “Kidnapped: Shawn Hornbeck”, CBS “48 Hours, 24 September 2008
Somer Thompson: Edecio Martinez; “Somer Thompson Vanished After School; Seven-Year- Old Girl Missing In Orange Park, Fla.”, CBS News Crimesider, 20 October 2009
Jorelys Rivera: Christina Caron; “Jorelys Rivera Stabbed, Assaulted in ‘Calculated’ Murder“, ABC News, ABCNews.go.com, 6 December 2011
Nothing posted to this blog will ever be about sympathy for the sex offender. An steering consideration in my studies, beginning in 1998, has been to understand and empathize with the adverse consequences of childhood sexual abuse. It is becoming increasingly more clear that current management practices are not reducing either the incidence of sexual abuse of children or the recidivism of sex offenders. Societies reaction to sexual abuse of children has been driven by emotion and desire for retribution then justified by logic contrived to support the measure. Historically, and not just with sex offenders, that approach has too frequently caused more problems than it has solved. That has not changed.
Sun Tzu, in “The Art of War”, observed that “If you know the enemy and you know yourself, you need not fear the results of a hundred battles”. At least half of winning this battle to protect our children from sexual abuse, then, is to know the sex offender. That is the purpose of my study; to know the sex offender well enough to defeat them.
After fifteen years of study, I am confident I can offer a solution that will ensure your child will not be taken and abused by a stranger. It is not always convenient, but it works every time. It will be the subject of my first post – “Parents, Watch Your Children!”