TODAY   |  October 13, 2012

Colorado police chief: ‘There is a predator at large’

A community is in shock after the body of 10-year-old Jessica Ridgeway was positively identified Friday, one week after she went missing. Authorities are now looking for a suspect in her death, changing the focus from a search for her to a mission for justice. NBC’s Leanne Gregg reports.

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>>> there is heartache in colorado this morning after a week-long search for a missing 10-year-old girl ended in entouragedy. authorities say the body they found wednesday is that of jessica ridgeway, who was last seen leaving her home last week. nbc's leanne gregg is outside westminster, colorado, police department with more. good morning, leanne .

>> reporter: good morning, tamron. today this community is in shock about the horror of the crime as the search for jessica becomes a manhunt for her killer. the worst possible news after days of hope and prayers.

>> a great of sorrow in my heart. i regret to inform you that the body that was found has been positively identified as jessica ridgeway.

>> reporter: a body described by authorities as not intact was found in this open space park less than ten miles from jessica 's home. dna tests revealed the news no one wanted. police say the 10-year-old was abducted walking to school eight days ago. as for suspects, no word from authorities other than to say jessica 's family members have been ruled out.

>> there is a predator at large in our community.

>> reporter: the family did not release a statement after learning of jessica 's death, but police say they are devastated. relatives in missouri are among those grieving.

>> i can't imagine how anybody could do this to a child.

>> reporter: the investigation now turns to finding the person who took jessica . after receiving more than 1,500 tips, authorities say they plan to search more homes in the girl's neighborhood, use expert profilers, and ask the public to report suspicious behaviors of people they know or have come in contact with.

>> we are doing everything within our power to apprehend that individual, and we are committed to doing everything within our power to keep our community and especially our children, our most precious commodity, safe.

>> reporter: as a makeshift memorial grows, neighbors on edge mourn the loss.

>> i have a son, you know? it's like you feel for this family.

>> reporter: and now a shift in the search and a hope for justice.

>> our focus has changed from a search for jessica to a mission of justice for jessica .

>> reporter: authorities say they will not stop until they find jessica 's killer, and they also say that they will not provide any further details about the investigation for fear it could jeopardize the case. tamron?

>> thank you very much. clint vanzant is an nbc news analyst and former fbi profiler. good morning.

>> good morning.

>> you heard leanne and the authorities say they will do everything they can to bring in the killer. but where do they start with clues here?

>> well, one of the things they've done already is they've looked at over a thousand registered sex offenders to find out where they've been. realize that this body this grizzly find that they have found concerning the victim and what happened to her, not only did they identify her by dna, but they'll be looking for dna, hairs, fibers, any csi type of issue. in a case like this, you've got multiple crime scenes . you've got the five-minute window where the victim was likely taken off the street. you've got the vehicle she was transported in. you've got a location where she may or may not have been held. you've got the body disposal site. the authorities have to find each of these. but this is a race against time . this is someone who committed a horribly grizzly crime, and unfortunately, who is fully capable of doing something like this again.

>> you bring up the fact jessica was only a few minutes down the block from her home. would that mean someone could have been following her? how does a crime like this happen so close to where this child was living?

>> well, it is very close. when you realize that she leaves her house at 8:30, she would have been within view of her mother for about a minute. she was supposed to meet a friend within five minutes, so that window of opportunity to take her is probably no more than three or four minutes. so law enforcement , the fbi who's involved, they'll be looking at all the house along the street. they'll be looking at people who travel up and down that road at that same type of day. you know, two possibilities. she was a random victim of a predator, or number two, as you suggest, this is somebody who had been stalking her, who noticed that a preferential victim that he or they were looking for walked that street every day and they took this opportunity to take this precious little girl away from us.

>> and it's hard to discuss, the entire story is heart breaking, but the condition of her body, not being intact. what does that tell you, your experience as a profiler?

>> well this is someone, unfortunately, who's been around. there's an element of criminal activity on this part. this is a sociopath, a psycho path to do something to this little girl . but when you, as the police suggest, take off body parts , remove them, that's done to confound law enforcement as they try to identify the victim. it's done in a way to help dispose of the victim's remains. so who do you look for in a case like this? maybe a hunter. someone who's used to doing something like that. someone who's been around knives, instruments. it will be up to the authorities, the investigators to determine what exactly was done to this victim, and that will help to identify. in the meantime, they'll be looking at the traditional cell phone records. whose cell phone was used where the victim disappeared? where her backpack was found and where her body was found. if we can find those three things in common with one cell phone , that could very easily lead to the killer in this case.

>> the authorities and the community have vowed to find the person responsible for taking jessica 's life. clint vanzant, thank you so much.