This is the fifth 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 of North Lake Brownwood.
The afternoon of Nov. 15, 2017, a Wednesday, Jason and Michelle Riggs rode home together from their respective jobs — the T.R. Havins Unit (Jason) and a bank (Michelle).
As they arrived at their North Lake Brownwood home, the two planned to attend the 6 p.m. Wednesday night service at North Lake Community Church.
Ryan Riggs had been missing for several days, and sheriff’s investigators wanted to talk to the 22-year-old about Blankinship’s murder. By now, Jason and Michelle feared their son had been involved.
After arriving home, Jason went inside and found a note Ryan had left. The note said “go to church and see what God gives me the courage to do,” Jason recalled.
Michelle, still outside, saw the family’s cat on the roof of their home. “I was thinking ‘there’s something wrong with the cat,’” Michelle said. “The cat looked stressed out. (The cat) was looking over into the back yard and looked upset. So I thought ‘I’m just going to walk around there and see what’s going on in the back yard.’
“So I walked around there, and Ryan was standing in the back yard. And I was so surprised that I actually jumped, and he looked like he was about to run. I found out he was trying to decide for sure what he was going to do.”
Michelle began speaking with her son.
“I need to tell you something, but I can’t,” Ryan told his mother.
“I know. But you need to say it,” Michelle replied.
“And he just burst out in tears and told me that he killed her, that he killed Chantay,” Michelle recalled. “He came over and collapsed on me and was just crying. When he said it, I just sat everything down and I just looked up and said, ‘oh, God.’”
Jason, still inside, grabbed his Bible and rushed outside, preparing to get Michelle and head for church.
“As I was coming around the corner to say ‘let’s go,’ there he was,” Jason said.
Michelle said, “Jason came around the corner and saw us, and he looked at me with a question on his face, and I kind of got from his look that he was asking me, and I just shook my head ‘yes.’ And then he started crying and he came and put his arms around us and we stood there and cried for several minutes, and we talked for a few minutes and he told his dad.
“We told him ‘you’re going to have to turn yourself in.’ He said ‘OK, but I want to go to church first, I want to confess to the church first.’”
Michelle recalled a “feeling of shock” on the short drive to church. “I remember telling Ryan ‘you know you can be forgiven, right?’ He said ‘yeah I know.’”
Outside the church, Jason saw pastor Ron Keener greeting church members as they arrived for the service. Jason motioned for Keener, and the pastor approached the Riggs family.
Jason asked Keener to come with him to the side of the church. “I sensed the urgency of the moment,” Keener said. He saw Ryan Riggs standing with his mother. “When Ryan saw me coming, he was facing me and began to cry,” Keener said. “He grabbed me and hugged me and embraced me and didn’t want to let go. He was sobbing. He said ‘I came to church tonight to take care of something. I need to make something right.’ “I knew what was coming. I knew it was not about the trash incident. The first thing he said was, ‘I am a murderer ... I need to confess that.’” Keener prayed with Riggs in the parking lot and told him, “what you’ve done is a horrible, horrible thing and there will be tremendous consequences ... a lot of lives have been hurt by this. Elaine and I and your church family are not going to throw you under the bus.” After the Wednesday night service began, Keener said, Riggs “confessed with much emotion. He said ‘I murdered her. I did it.’ And it was a state of shock in our church in terms of how various ones received the news … for our people to hear one of our own … some were angry. Some were absolutely forgiving.
“It was a dramatic once-in-a-lifetime moment.”
Keener called Sheriff Vance Hill and told him Ryan Riggs had just confessed to the murder of Chantay Blankinship. With Hill’s blessing, Keener and his wife, Elaine, the Riggs family and another couple from church caravanned to the Law Enforcement Center.
On the 25-mile drive from the church to the Law Enforcement Center, there was little conversation in the Riggs’ vehicle. “I told him, ‘answer the questions honestly. Don’t hide anything. Don’t try to play any games. Just be honest and be respectful,’” Jason recalled.
In the parking lot of the Law Enforcement Center, Michelle recalled, “Vance came up and gave Ryan a big hug, and then he gave me a big hug, and then basically everyone just kind of swept inside.
Then-sheriff’s Sgt. Scott Bird, the lead investigator in the case, and Texas Ranger Jason Shea arrived. The two took Riggs to a room to take his confession, and Hill made coffee for everyone. Hill and District Attorney Micheal Murray watched the confession on a monitor.
“They were great to us,” Michelle said. “There was so much going on in my mind. When the dust settled a little after that, that was really helpful. And especially later when they had to come search our house, they were really nice.They were extremely professional, extremely kind.
“I’m grateful to the Brown County Sheriff’s Office for the way they let things unfold, the way they treated him, the way they treated us.”
Keener also recalled seeing Hill introduce himself to Ryan Riggs and treat Riggs “with what would be considered by most as undeserved compassion,” Keener said. “It made me very proud of Vance Hill. “It was a picture of understanding and class.”
In Wednesday’s final installment, Michelle McDaniel, the mother of Chantay Blankinship, and sheriff’s investigator Scott Bird speak.