The following story of Jessica’s life was written by MaryHelen Cuellar, Jessica’s aunt. I had never tried to make contact with the family of Patrick’s victim, because I was afraid it would hurt them more, but I googled Jessica’s name and this story came up. I replied to it, and MaryHelen answered me very sweetly.
Last week a 10 year old girl in Colorado was abducted as she was walking to school, a mere 3 blocks to a park where she would meet friends to continue the walk on to Witt elementary. Her mother watched her walk out of sight, not knowing it was the last time she would see her. Her name was Jessica Ridgeway. As I followed the news reports, seeing “Jessica” and “Witt” elementary, my subconscious began to feel profoundly sad. Sad enough that a ten year old is not safe from predators on our streets, but a literal reminder of what happened to my niece, Jessica Witt.
When the news came exactly one week from the day she went missing that Jessica Ridgeway’s body had been found; it was more than depressing. Of course I feel badly for the Ridgeway family, and for the little girl whose life ended so terribly. Thoughts kept jumbling in my mind; “was she terrified? Did she suffer? What kind of monster does that to a child? (Reports said the body as not intact so hard to identify).” Bottom line, I was so struck because of our Jessica’s story
Jessica Lynne Witt was born on September 24, 1974 to my brother, Jack Witt and his wife, Judy. They were both 17. Fortunately, they lived with my parents, so had help, and Jessica soon became my parents “only” grandchild although they had several more. Jessica was a darling baby, looking like the “Witts.” She had dark hair which became curly as she grew older like mine, a medium to dark brown. My brother Jack and I were the only ones with dark hair and brown eyes in our family….like our mother.
Mother took Jessica everywhere with her, I mean EVERYWHERE with her. You knew if you invited Helen (my mother) that Jessica would be with her. At times, it is hard to admit now, it was annoying. Now I just wish I could see them both. My brother and his wife had another baby the following summer when Jessica wasn’t quite a year old, a boy, Jeremy, who was born early and died only two days after he was born. Then in October of that same year (1975) my son Jason was born.
Jessica and Jason were to be best friends as Jason’s sisters were 13 and 10 when he was born, so Jason and Jessica played together a lot. Once when Jessica was 2 and Jason 1, barely able to stand up; I walked into the room to see Jessica with one hand holding Jason’s arm and the other paddling his padded bottom. Jason had a very startled expression on his face but was not crying. I explained to Jessica the concept of “no hitting.” Jessica spent a lot of days with us going to water parks, theme parks, swimming; if it involved fun, Jason wanted his cousin to go. Once when they were in Junior High and we went to pick Jessica up, Jason got into the back seat so that he and his cousin could sit together. Jessica bounced into the car (she was always in high spirits) and put her arm around Jason’s neck, and declared to me; “He is my best friend!” Once while we were swimming, Jessica was around 10, and I was holding her in the water and noticed she had her glasses on (Jason started wearing glasses at 10 also). My mother wore glasses and it was always the first thing she did in the morning, even before she got out of bed….reach for her glasses. I asked Jessica; “Why do you wear your glasses in the pool?” She replied, “I wouldn’t be able to see your face without them.” Remember I was holding her, so her little face was very close to mine.
Jessica and Jason would read poems and stories to me that they wrote; Jessica was very gifted as was her cousin. I then would read some of the stories of my childhood to them that I had written. Jessica was especially fond of stories of her Dad when he was growing up. The New Years Eve that Jessica was probably around 13, I let her have a party at my house. There were only 3 of her friends and her but I still remember them dancing to Bon Jovi’s “Sweet Child O’ Mine.”
The last time I saw Jessica was at our extended family Christmas party when she was 17. She breezed in and out with a long haired guy (not her boyfriend I was told). A few weeks later, Jason came to me troubled. “Mom, I’m worried about Jessica,” he said. My son was 16 and a full grown man at that point, 6’2” or 3” with the same dark hair that I have. As macho as he looks, my son is very sensitive; he needed to talk to me about his cousin. “What’s wrong,” I replied. “Mom, she’s hanging out with the wrong people,” he explained. “She’s moved out of her parents’ home into an apartment with friends and she’s only 17. I’m afraid she will quit school or something will happen.”
I did know that Jessica wasn’t living at home anymore which was an issue within the family. My mother had died 3 years and a few months before so my information was more sketchy than it used to be. My father and I didn’t communicate in the same way, but I knew my father was still very involved with Jessica. “Jason, she will be okay.” I said in response. “Witts are notorious for rebelling as teens and getting it together later in life.” (I was thinking of myself and all my siblings, actually. It was true). “Mom, can’t you do something? He asked. “Jason, if if try to interfere, it will be WWIII in the family.” (I could foresee the angry phone calls from my father if I tried to get Jessica to move in with me which is what Jason was proposing, and truthfully, I was also leery of the friends she might bring around my son, but trust me, these words I said have continued to haunt me).
Two weeks later, Jessica went missing. It was a Saturday and I was doing some of my grocery shopping at Sam’s Wholesale Warehouse. Pushing the basket down the aisles, I ran into my sister Susan, who is 2 years younger than Jack. I am the oldest, having been 14 when Jack was born, and 17 when Susan was born. Susan stopped to talk and I should have surmised from her manner and face but I was totally shocked to hear what she had to say. “Mary Helen, Jessica has been missing since last week.” “What!?” She had my total attention; she proceeded to tell me a story that I can’t even really reiterate here as I went into shock, but I do know the end sentence was that tomorrow they were having a ground search for Jessica’s body.
An electric shock went through me and I ran to the bathroom there, leaving Susan staring at me and my basket. I have never had that happen before or since when I almost couldn’t make the bathroom; the shock/adrenalin made everything inside me liquid and the need to void the news itself was overwhelming. When I came out, I was able to ask a few questions; one of which was “Why didn’t anyone tell me?” Was thinking specifically of my brother; my sister replied; “They were hoping she had run away and would show up, didn’t want to worry you.” Worry me? Of course I was worried but this shock was worse to me; might have been easier if I had known for awhile.
This was the end of January, around the 28th and Jessica had been missing since the 21st, I found out. She worked part-time at a telemarketer job and had not been at school or work since the 21st. During this time, Jessica was on the news nearly every night as they searched for her. I had gone into a telephone store to exchange a phone that wasn’t working and told the clerk about my niece & that I had to have a phone that worked. She looked over to her co-worker and said, “This is Jessica’s aunt.” (No, they didn’t know her or me, but had been following the news & hoping against hope that Jessica would be found alive….as I did last week with Jessica Ridgeway). The co-worker said, “Isn’t it terrible what our kids get into?” “What do you mean, “ I asked. “Well, they said on the news that she and a friend went on a credit card spree.” “What?! No,” I told them, and told them the story, then called the news station that had said that when I came home. They sent a reporter and cameraman to interview myself and Judy, Jessica’s mother. I told them the story. I asked them what made them follow up & the reporter said “You said the exact right thing to our editor….you said we weren’t reporting the truth about Jessica, and he is all about the truth.”
So our interview clearing her played on the news that day. Jessica was only guilty of being naïve and trusting the wrong people. As I learned more of the details, it began to sink in. We made posters and I had passed them out the day my phone rang on the 31st around 5 pm. It was my brother Jack, “Mary Helen, they’ve found Jessica; she’s dead.” “NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO,” I wailed. Jack had tears in his voice, hearing my tears. “Mary Helen, will you please go and tell Raymond and his family?
My brother Raymond, had just been diagnosed with Lymphoma-Non-Hodgkins and lived a short distance from me with his wife and 3 children. Of course, I would. I hung up the phone and screamed and wailed. Jason was next to me, and said later that he had never seen me like that. Bless his heart, I totally robbed him of his emotions at that time. A friend of mine called as she had seen the news where Jessica was found (we had all been praying and wishing); I was incoherent, I couldn’t talk. Jason had to drive me to my brother’s. I went in to tell him, (Raymond was 2 years older than Jack and they were inseparable growing up and in life, worked at the same place and rode to work together every day. I was 12 yrs older than Raymond). Raymond was sitting at their dining table looking at paperwork and I put my hand on his shoulder and told him. Raymond looked up at me, saw the tears in my eyes, and said, “Now we are not going to have any of that; no crying; we knew this was going to be the outcome.”
No Raymond, I said silently to myself; I did NOT know this was going to be the outcome….how can our 17 year old niece be dead?I am going to go somewhere where I can feel my feelings then. It is so wrong to bury a child. My brother and sister in law were devastated. I went with them to identify Jessica’s body; unbearable. She looked so peaceful and like she had gone to sleep albeit she had lain in an open field for ten days. It was January so the cold weather had helped. She looked like a younger version of herself….an angel. I was the only one of the family to see her (I think) besides her mother and father. Raymond had to go back into the hospital, and my father was in very bad shape.
I was at Jack and Judy’s house when the call came to go to the morgue or I probably wouldn’t have gone either. After the fact, the details of what happened trickled in but it wasn’t until the trial of the man who killed her that I knew all that had happened. Jessica worked with a man called Patrick at the telemarketing job; he was in his early twenties. At times, Patrick would give Jessica a ride home as she didn’t have a car. He was definitely not a romantic interest; Jessica was engaged to her high school sweetheart.
One day, Patrick took Jessica to my father’s house. Later, my father’s credit card company called & asked him if he had his card….he went to look…..no, he did not. Next question, did you charge $8,000 in the last two weeks (my father…heavens, no). The credit card company sent my father a statement with the fraudulent charges so he could mark the ones that were his. Daddy showed the bill to Jessica as he had paid for her to have her nails done and bought her something else. When Jessica saw the bill, she realized that some of the charges must have been made by her friend, Patrick as he had traveled to California; had even bought her something at the mall. Jessica, however, did not mention this to her grandfather at the time; just pointed out what Daddy had spent on her.
Skip ahead to the next story that we heard….the police were arresting Patrick…..for murder! Jessica’s room-mate, a young girl, had a harrowing story to tell. On the night of the 21st (the night that Jessica went missing), Patrick came over to Jessica’s apartment WITH JESSICA’S PURSE and told her roommate the following: Patrick came into the room with Jessica’s purse and her girlfriend asked where Jessica was. “I killed her,” answered the slightly scruffy looking Patrick with eyes that glinted behind his glasses. “What?” said the roommate, with a chill running through her, not knowing if it was a cruel joke.
“Yes, she was going to turn me in for credit card fraud AND I WOULD GO BACK TO JAIL, so I shot her.” He continued. Patrick however either did not or would not tell her where Jessica was. He sat down at the kitchen table & wouldn’t let the girl leave the room. She was terrified that she was next. (I have always wondered why he went to their apt and told her). They sat up the entire night and the roommate began to slowly believe his story. Around 6 in the morning, Patrick told her that he had to GO TAKE HIS SISTER TO WORK (so chilling, as if nothing had happened). His demeanor was cold and cruel; he warned her not to leave the apartment until he came back.
As soon as he left, the roommate called her boyfriend to come get her and they went straight to her father, who was on the Plano police department. The police arrested Patrick at his home and found a gun under his mattress. He, however, would not tell them anything about Jessica.
The next chapter in the story comes from the trial: The police set up a sting. Patrick had a friend (whom he would later accuse at the trial of murdering Jessica, but it was not true). Patrick, watching the news stories of the search for Jessica; asked his friend to go and move her body as the searchers were getting too close.
Jessica lived and worked in Dallas as did Patrick and her body was found in Ft. Worth so I suppose that Patrick thought it was safe. The friend went to the police and told them, and Jessica was found. She had been shot at close range in the back of the head close to her ear. The coroner said she died instantly and knew no pain. That is a very small comfort, but a comfort nonetheless….to me. Later Jessica’s friend & roommate was to testify that Patrick told her he had told Jessica that he needed to get the money from his friend to reimburse my father for the credit card and that he told her Ernie was going to meet them in Ft. Worth, and that it had to be secret because it was a lot of cash.
Jessica was skipping ahead of him on the path in the open field (there were a few bushes) and calling, “Ernie, Ernie,” happy and bubbly as always and he shot her. He told her friend that she never even knew it was coming. The trial was arduous and gruesome for our family. My father had died in April of 1993. In January when he was hospitalized; one of his doctors said, “What happened to you?” and his reply was: “My little granddaughter was murdered, and I just gave up.” Our brother Raymond was dying, but my sister, Susan and I and my daughter attended every day of the trial in Ft. Worth, driving over daily from Dallas and of course, Jessica’s parents.
The case was tight against Patrick even though he tried to throw blame on Ernie. The testimony of the coroner and police were detailed of course and hard to hear. When they showed the picture of Jessica as found, one of the women jurors looked hastily over directly at me. I’m sure she thought I was Jessica’s grandmother. We were warned not to make any outcry or cry for that matter. One morning when I woke up, I felt like I was laying in an open field and I realized that I was feeling like Jessica.
Honestly, I can’t remember the counts against Patrick or what sentence he was given other than guilty. The members of the jurors lined up to hug us after it was over, saying over and over how sorry they were. By the way, his defense was his troubled and abused childhood. The prosecutors made mincemeat of that. Jessica’s mother, Judy, made a very moving speech to the judge and jury before sentencing of what she will miss in Jessica’s life. There is no closure to any of this; we live daily with the loss of our girl. Her 38th birthday was just last month, and her parents will never have any grandchildren.
But it is a comfort to know her executioner is behind bars although for some reason his sentence allowed him to be up for parole after only 12 years! What? This is Texas! We kill people for murdering innocents. The Victims Assistance Association contacted us to tell us that Patrick was coming before the Parole board each time (it has been 3 times so far) so that we can bombard them with letters. I send pictures in my letters of my grandkids that will never know Jessica and that her children which she wasn’t able to have will never play with; of my family at Christmas without Jessica; of Jessica at Christmas at our house when she was alive, and pictures of Jessica from the time she was a baby until 17.
I want the Parole Board to know that we as a family are suffering….I also tell them my father’s story; that she was his favorite grandchild, and that he would have gladly paid the $8,000 if it would have saved her life, and that her death literally broke his heart; he died of congestive heart failure the next year. That my son was her best friend and mourns daily the loss of her as well as how even though he was an honor student, he also failed the semester she was killed. Not to mention her mother and father, losing both their children. Patrick has three times been denied parole; in talking to the director of Victims’s Assistance, she has assured me that he is not eligible; he is not a very good prisoner, but if his record inn prison ever becomes better, she will let me know so I can appear before the parole board.
My only solace now is that Jessica is with Mother and Daddy in heaven. Does make you wonder, doesn’t it if they were close for a reason? I am very grateful my mother was there to meet Jessica and didn’t have to live through what happened to her. I told the story a little disjointedly and factually, but it is a VERY long time from January 21st to January 31st when you are a parent and are searching for a child; I hope I have conveyed how painful it was to lose Jessica and more importantly what a loss she was to the world. RIP, sweet Jessica. 9/24/1974-1/21/1992
After I read this I sat and wept, not only for Jessica but for her family as well as mine. Patrick destroyed more lives than one when he pulled the trigger on Jessica. I posted a reply to MaryHelen, I felt at that time I could let the family know how I felt for them.
I am Patrick’s mother MaryHelen, Patrick was not raised to be a criminal, much less a killer, a man without a conscience. When he shot Jessica the bullet killed me as well, and his brothers. Only my deluded and deceived mother holds out the false Hope, the delusion, that he will get out and live a God-fearing life. The rest of us realize he has literally sold his soul to Satan. I pray daily for your family and that Patrick never gets out of prison. I pray the parole board listens to your protest and that when you are gone Jason will take up the protest cause. God bless your family.
MaryHelen replied back to me:
Hello Joyce Thank you for commenting on Jessica’s story. I never thought of course that anyone who knew Jessica much less Patrick would read it when I wrote it. I write these stories as my memoirs and forget that I am also “publishing” them for the world. I appreciate the courage it took for you to comment and can only imagine your pain and loss. I hope that God will bless all of us who were impacted by that one bullet.
Reading that story when I was in a complete melt down about Patrick’s up coming parole and my protest of it was sort of like a wake up call to how I had let my fear of Patrick getting out send me into a “spin cycle” and it helped me so much to know that Jessica’s family now knows that I hurt for them as well as for myself. I am also glad to know that the family is protesting Patrick’s parole as well as me. Just an aside, it also let me know that the reason Patrick lied to us about his court date was not JUST about he didn’t want us to hear the evidence against him, but he was going to put on his defense as an “abused child.” LOL That’s a joke for sure.