This is the second in a series of stories based on interviews with Jason and Michelle Riggs, the parents of Ryan Riggs, and others in late February. Ryan Riggs is serving a life sentence for the capital murder of Chantay Blankinship of North Lake Brownwood.
Jason and Michelle Riggs were living in Cisco when Ryan was born in Eastland Memorial Hospital.
The Riggs couple and their pastor, Ron Keener, described a paradoxical young man who could be an extremely hard worker, likable, intelligent, inquisitive and upbeat. He also had times of depression and erratic behavior in which he seemed to lose his direction, and at some point started using marijuana, his parents said.
“Starting from a little kid, he was a little daredevil,” Jason said. “He would do stuff including seeing how fast he can go on his bicycle, on a skateboard … at one point he was at the top of a hill and decided to try to ride down without his hands on the bike, and hit a bump and went off the bike.”
Ryan was in the emergency room at least once a summer “to get stitches or something,” Michelle said. “He always wanted to be outside and doing things, and he loved taking things apart and working on things. One year, because of that, we found him a little child-sized tool belt that had real child-sized tools in it. He would take door knobs off. He took apart door hinges. He took apart this …”
“Cordless drill. Couldn’t get it back together,” Jason said.
Michelle continued, “one time I caught him taking the motor off the lawn mower. Just as he was getting it off I asked him what he was doing. He was going to put it on his bicycle. I was just going, ‘put it back!’”
Those carefree days would come to an end.
Jason said his son began using marijuana. “I don’t know where, I don’t know when,” Jason said. “When he was 15 or 16, maybe. He allowed events in his life to really get to him — the highs and lows of young love, of course.
“He got pretty good at hiding (marijuana) for the most part.”
Michelle said, “I knew he was smoking marijuana and I told him ‘you cannot have that here.' By the time we really got to see that something was really wrong and really going on, it was after Chantay was killed.
“We could see there were things going on with him and we really did try to talk to him about getting help. It would end up in an argument, and it would get to the point where it was not helpful to press on because it would make it worse and escalate into a fight.”
Ryan ended up in the emergency room after cutting his wrists. “A blood test showed a trace of meth,” Michelle said. “I was sitting in the hospital room with him when they had a counselor come and talk to him. We discussed it earlier, and he told me that he’d experimented with it (meth).”
Ryan told his mother he’d never used meth previously. Michelle said her son told her “he didn’t like what it did to him, that he wasn’t doing it any more.”
There were times, though, when Ryan worked hard at outdoor jobs.
“For an 18, 19-year-old, the guy liked to work,” Jason said. “He liked to get out and do stuff. He liked to do different things. I think he did it for fun. He was interested in construction. He was interested in the oil field. He was anxious to get out there and do something.”
Ryan did some work with an elder in the church, Michelle said.
“Gradually he got to where he wasn’t dependable for Jose and he wouldn’t get up,” Michelle said. “We knew he had depression. He would spend long periods of times asleep in bed or gone from the house. He would have angry outbursts real easily.”
Ryan was on medication and had counseling, but quit. His behavior grew erratic.
The last time Michelle talked to Ryan about getting help, it ended in a big argument.
“I was trying to talk to him about getting help and all he would say was ‘nobody can help me,’” Michelle said. “At that time I didn’t know that he was dealing with the guilt of what he had done.”
Keener is pastor of North Lake Community Church, where Jason and Michelle Riggs attend. Blankinship also attended the church, and Ryan Riggs sometimes attended.
Keener recalled meeting Ryan when he was 15. “He seemed sad — very sad, very discouraged, very down,” Keener said. “Once he got through that season, he did plug in.
Ryan went through “seasons,” including times when he was “clearly seeking direction,” Keener recalled. “It was like he would go from a good season of being on track to a negative season of being off track.”
After Blankinship’s murder on May 13, 2016, 18 months passed before Ryan Riggs confessed — first to his parents, then to Keener, and the church, and to authorities.
During those 18 months, Ryan sometimes came to church, Keener said. “When I would see him, there just seemed such a sadness.”
In the next installment, Jason and Michelle Riggs recall getting to know Chantay Blankinship at North Lake Community Church and describe the weekend she disappeared and was later found murdered.