This is the fourth in a series of stories based on interviews of Jason and Michelle Riggs and others in late February. The Riggs’ son, Ryan, is serving a life sentence for the May 13, 2016 murder of Chantay Blankinship.
After Chantay Blankinship’s murder on May 13, 2016, 18 months passed with no solid leads or suspects as a frustrating investigation continued.
That changed in November 2017.
While not yet having a suspect’s name, Brown County Sheriff’s investigators believed they knew more than they’d known previously when they talked to the media on Nov. 9 of that year.
Investigators believed they were likely looking for a white male with brown or light brown hair, blue or green eyes, a light complexion and possibly some freckles, Sheriff Vance Hill told the media.
Recently developed technology in DNA analysis had provided investigators with a profile of the suspect’s facial and skin tone characteristics — a big break that jumpstarted the stalled investigation.
The profile couldn’t determine the suspect’s age. An image from the company that performed the analysis, known as DNA phenotyping — Parabon Snapshot of Reston, Va. — suggested what the suspect might look like at age 25.
Investigators showed the image to members of Blankinship’s family, and someone suggested the name Ryan Riggs.
Sheriff’s Lt. Scott Bird, who held the rank of sergeant at the time, was the lead investigator in the case. Bird had heard the name of Ryan Riggs earlier after deputies followed up on a report of trash dumping on a county road.
Investigators got a warrant to arrest Riggs for illegal dumping so they could “at least talk to him,” Bird said.
But investigators couldn’t find him.
“I always thought the perpetrator would come from that area,” Bird said. “For the next week it was just a manhunt for him.”
Friday, Nov. 10.
Michelle Riggs read about the break in the case and saw the image that would put investigators onto the trail of the suspect — who turned out to be Jason and Michelle Riggs’ son.
“I was excited,” Michelle said. “I was thinking ‘maybe this is going to help.’ I came home that afternoon and I saw Ryan, and we talked like we always did.
“I asked him if he had seen (the image), and the first thing he said was ‘it doesn’t look like me.’ That should’ve been a huge red flag, and it just went right over my head.”
When Jason Riggs saw the image, he thought it didn’t look like anyone he knew. “But then you kind of keep scrolling a little bit, and it’s talking about possible heritage, eye color, hair color, possible freckles, and giving a description,” Jason said. “And I’m sitting there going … no … that sounds like they could be talking about Ryan.
“I’m sitting there going, the hair was wrong … and of course I’m a dad, I’m not gonna go ‘yeah! It’s gotta be him!’”
Later that day, Michelle got her son to watch a music video with her by Christian artist David Crowder. “I thought he would like it,” Michelle said. “The song goes ‘lift your head weary sinner’ and Ryan told me ‘I really like that.’ That was the last thing we did, and he told me he was going to go see his friend, and was gone. We were afraid that he was going to try to commit suicide.”
Jason and Michelle learned later their son had gotten a ride into Brownwood and lived under a bridge.
When four sheriff’s detectives showed up at the Riggs’ home, looking for Ryan, the detectives initially talked about the trash dumping Ryan had been responsible for some time earlier.
But Jason knew the detectives weren’t there because someone had dumped trash on the side of the road.
Jason recalled praying for his son. “I said ‘I don’t care what happens,’” Jason recalled. “‘I just want him to do the right thing.’ I was of the opinion that I want to see him again. I don’t want to have to identify him. I just prayed, ‘let him do the right thing.’ I’ll be here. I’m going to stand with him because I love him.”
Wednesday, Nov. 15.
By now, Jason and Michelle feared their son had been involved in the murder of Chantay Blankinship.
“We were very stressed out at that point,” Michelle said. “We were thinking ‘this is starting to look like they think he did it, and his behavior is not helping.’
“Later that day my daughter came to see me at work. She wanted to know what was going on with Ryan. She asked me if we thought he did it. She was asking me what’s going on with him because she had seen where we were asking him on Facebook and sending him messages, asking him to come home.”
Michelle told her daughter it was beginning to look like Ryan was involved. “I told her you need to prepare yourself for the possibility that it might have been him,” Michelle said. “We were scared — scared and confused.”
In Sunday’s story, Ryan Riggs confesses to the murder of Chantay Blankinship.