This is the third in a series of articles based on interviews with Jason and Michelle Riggs, who are the parents of Ryan Riggs, during interviews in late February. Ryan Riggs is serving life in prison for the May 13, 2016 murder of 25-year-old Chantay Blankinship.
At North Lake Community Church, Jason and Michelle Riggs got to know a young woman who also attended the church — Chantay Blankinship.
The petite young woman has been described as mentally challenged and childlike. She attended special education classes in the Brownwood school district and graduated from Brownwood High School, her mother and stepfather, Michelle and Steven McDaniel, said earlier.
Blankinship “smiled and beamed and radiated” as she sang in the North Lake Community Church choir, pastor Ron Keener said.
In numerous photos posted on Facebook, she is frequently depicted with an engaging and magnetic smile. Her family called her Tay.
“She was my friend,” Michelle Riggs said. “She walked out here a lot. She loved to walk. A lot of people have said they would ask if she wanted a ride and she would say ‘no.’
“One day I offered to give her a ride home from church and she would come to me, and ask me to give her rides. It started with picking her up for church or taking her home, and she got to where she would sit with me (in church).”
Blankinship had a Bible that somebody had given her, and she had highlighted and marked portions of scripture.
“I don’t think she could read it, but when Pastor Ron was teaching from a part in the Bible, she wanted to know where it was,” Michelle said. “So I would find it for her, and she would sit there and mark it and do her best to follow along. Sometimes she would go to lunch with us after church.”
Ryan was rarely around his parents and Blankinship at the same time. He was sometimes in the car with his parents when they gave Blankinship a ride home, Michelle said. Or he might be in the car when his parents took him home and then went to lunch with Blankinship.
“She started really trying to talk to us sometimes,” Michelle said. The young woman would sometimes become “really talking and animated. Sometimes it was hard to understand what she was saying. You could tell that she was challenged. You could definitely tell,” Michelle said.
Michelle and Jason described the evening of May 13, 2016 — the last night Blankinship was seen alive.
“We have a couple that we’re friends with,” Michelle said. “We play games with them on Friday nights. We had told Ryan — he was in his room — that we were going.”
Jason and Michelle asked Ryan, who was playing video games and watching television, if he wanted to accompany them. He declined.
“And I remember it was really hot that day,” Michelle said. “We drove over to our friends’ house. We passed (Chantay). And she waved at us, so we waved at her.”
Jason said, “I think we stopped and talked to her for a second, didn’t we?”
Michelle continued, “we probably asked her if she wanted a ride. She had that wave that she did. She smiled and waved at everybody.”
After visiting with their friends for a couple of hours, Jason and Michelle returned home, and saw that Ryan was in his room. They had no way of knowing that he’d gone out that night.
“We just let (Ryan) know ‘we’re home’ and he said ‘OK,’” Jason said. “He was still doing what he was doing when we left. He was playing video games and watching TV. We had no reason to think that he had even left the house.”
The next day, Michelle received a text from a woman who was close to Blankenship. The woman said she’d learned from Blankinship’s grandfather that the young woman was missing.
“We prayed for her, and they said that they were looking for her,” Michelle said. “My thought was, maybe she was with somebody or maybe with a relative. And then I found out the next day that they still hadn’t find her.”
As sheriff’s deputies began searching for Blankinship, church members also organized a search after church on Sunday, May 15.
Michelle and Ryan participated in the search, and rode in a truck with some of Blankinship’s relatives. “We would drive around the Tamarack area and then we would get out and walk and search,” Michelle said.
“By that point, you really kind of felt like, probably she wasn’t going to be found alive.”
Later that Sunday, a searcher found Blankinship’s body in an abandoned cellar on isolated property off County Road 424.
After learning Blankinship had been found dead, Michelle, Ryan and one of Ryan’s friends cried and hugged.
More than 400 people — including Ryan Riggs — attended Blankinship’s funeral at North Lake Community Church.
Before the funeral, Keener said he planned to speak on “a new season,” taken from the third chapter of Ecclesiastes. “She has a new season, in her new life with the Lord Jesus Christ, and each of us has that same opportunity for a new season,” Keener said.
She was buried at Pleasant Valley Cemetery.
Weeks, months, a year and more passed with no breaks, no solid leads for investigators.
Sometime in mid-2017, Michelle prayed that the killer would confess.
“It really bothered me that the person who had done it had not been caught,” Michelle said. “I was praying about it and I was praying for the person who did it. I was praying for her family, for us, just for everyone who was hurt by it.
“I was asking that God would just make that person just so miserable that they just couldn’t stand it, that they had to do the right thing. And I heard God’s voice say ‘even if it’s your own son?’ I just had to stop because I didn’t want to go any further in that conversation. But I said ‘yes.’”
In the next installment, Jason and Michelle Riggs describe the days leading up to their son’s confession and the moment Ryan told them he had murdered Chantay Blankinship.