Colorado has been in the news quite a bit over the last few months, most recently due to the abduction and murder of 10-year-old Jessica Ridgeway. Over the span of eight days, Jessica’s story went from an Amber Alert for a missing child to a murder, the likes of which Colorado cannot remember. Since Jessica’s body was identified, there have been reports from local news almost daily about children and parents reporting attempted abductions. Despite the capture of Jessica’s alleged killer, I’ve become a paranoid parent and I know I’m not alone.

Kids go missing every day. There are reports of abductions and assaults on children all the time, nationwide. We all shake our heads and grieve for the children and families involved, and then we go about our daily affairs. This case, however, hit too close to home. Just miles from my home, Jessica was abducted while walking three blocks to a park to meet some friends to go to school. It’s a nice neighborhood…the kind of neighborhood where “these things just don’t happen.”

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Police released a call to action to get the locals on board in the search. Hundreds of people searched for Jessica. Days later, her backpack was found, then a body in a park that couldn’t be immediately identified… and here’s where it gets really scary for this mom…

A friend of mine witnessed photos taken before news crews had arrived and clued me in on crime scene details that had not yet been released to the public. Suffice to say, because of the condition of the body, it would take a whole day to positively identify it as poor little Jessica.

I went from being the parent who would let my toddler run ahead of me in the grocery store to bribing her with lollipops to get her to stay in the shopping cart, always right next to me. I’m the paranoid parent I never wanted to be but honestly, I feel like I have good reason.

The FBI received thousands of tips from local residents and identified the man (a 17-year-old boy!) who has been arrested and charged with Jessica’s murder. He now sits in a local prison, his fate to be determined. The idea that a child abducted and murdered another child is horrifying. I’m so sad but mostly, I’m scared and I’m not alone. The seemingly random act committed by the least likely of suspects has created a ripple of terror in all of us.

My girlfriends with kids are having the same response that I am and becoming perhaps a bit overprotective. Friends of mine who are anti-gun are buying firearms. And I’m force-feeding my toddler sugar to keep her safely contained where I can see her. I know it’s alarmist and I know it’s not healthy, but we mothers often feel as though we can never be too careful. And to be honest, when a crime like this happens so close to home, I can’t blame us for acting this way.

Practically speaking, I hope the country has learned a lesson with us. I hope that mothers and fathers will take caution in public places as well as the familiar. However embarrassing it was at the time, my parents walked me to school and later the bus stop, till I was a teenager. I always said they were too strict, too overprotective. Now, with little girls of my own to defend, I may just walk them to all the way to college someday. They’ll thank me for it, eventually.