This is the final story based on interviews in late February with Jason and Michell Riggs and others. The Riggs are the parents of Ryan Riggs, who is serving a life sentence for the May 13, 2016 murder of Chantay Blankinship of North Lake Brownwood.
Michelle Riggs said she never asked God to spare her son from the death penalty. “I just prayed for God’s will,” she said.
After Ryan Riggs was sentenced to life in prison without parole on Feb. 15, 2019, Chantay Blankinship’s mother and stepfather, Michelle and Steven McDaniel, approached Jason and Michelle Riggs outside the courtroom.
“They waited for us outside the courtroom and we talked,” Michelle Riggs recalled. “Michelle McDaniel hugged me and I told her that I loved her daughter and she said ‘I know you did.’ She told me that (Chantay) talked about me to her.
“There are times when she comes to church and we’ve hugged each other, we’ve prayed together, we’ve talked about getting together, just the two of us sometime and just talking. That’s just been a beautiful experience.”
Michelle McDaniel, speaking by phone, said, “I go to church with Michelle (Riggs) and we do talk. I can see the remorse in her eyes when she talks with me. I’m glad it’s all over and (Ryan Riggs) is behind bars. I don’t hold anything against (Jason and Michelle Riggs).”
The wound of losing her daughter “never heals. It’s still like yesterday,” McDaniel said. “I resent the son for what he did. I forgave (Ryan Riggs) to an extent but not all the way.”
Sheriff’s Lt. Scott Bird, who held the rank of sergeant at the time of the investigation into Blankinship’s murder and was the lead investigator in the case, recalled taking Ryan Riggs’ confession with Texas Ranger Jason Shea.
“When I spoke with him he was not emotional,” Bird said. “He was just speaking very matter of fact and very detailed. He didn’t try to hide anything from us. We’d ask him a question, he’d answer it.”
Riggs’ parents, Bird recalled, were “distraught, kind of in shock.”
Bird said he empathizes with Jason and Michelle Riggs. “They ended up getting a life sentence too, away from their son, and they didn’t do anything wrong,” Bird said. “They’ll never get to give him a hug on Christmas or give him birthday presents at a family setting.
“They lost their son. Now granted they can go talk to their son and go see him, where Chantay’s parents can’t, but he will never see free light again.”
Jason and Michelle Riggs “didn’t take Chantay. To me, they’re pretty much victims in this as well,” Bird said.
“I do feel for J.D. and Michelle Riggs but I have empathy for Chantay’s parents as well. Yes, Chantay’s gone. Her parents can’t ever talk to her again. Ryan’s parents can talk to him but they’ll never get the same kind of conversations you can have with your family.
“I cannot even begin to feel what they’re feeling. They were always very polite and courteous to us, even when we were searching their house. Mom was a little upset but that’s understandable. J.D. was very professional and kind and courteous. Never once did they say anything bad to us even in the midst of searching their house. They knew we had a job to do.”
Ron Keener, pastor of North Lake Community Church, said he hopes Jason and Michelle Riggs’ interview with the Bulletin will show “there is life after tragedy, and there’s life after the trauma of this painful experience here in our community.
“I believe as their pastor for the past eight years, that J.D. and Michelle have grown so deeply in the Lord, especially in the last three years. And as Elaine and I have watched them, they have risen to a higher plain because of the tragedy and trauma in their lives.”
Keener noted a poster on the wall of the church with the words “you’re not finished when you lose, you’re finished when you quit.”
“That’s very significant to me because they have not quit,” Keener said. “It would have been very easy for J.D. and Michelle Riggs to turn, run, been mad at God, said we’re through, we don’t understand, but they’ve been just the opposite.
“Certainly they’ve had their times of emotions, discouragement and a lot of questions, but in the tragedy I believe there’s been a triumph for this couple and our church. We’ve been able to look at the horrible nature of what took place and it’s given all of us a renewal of hope in the Lord Jesus Christ.”
Keener’s wife, Elaine, said, “we can’t lose sight of the fact that Michelle McDaniel cannot go visit Chantay three times a month. They can’t celebrate holidays. They can’t celebrate birthdays.
“We’re glad Ryan and his parents have this opportunity to visit three times a month but we have to keep in mind Chantay’s family cannot do so.”
Ron Keener agreed, adding, “As pastor, Elaine and I pray all the time for genuine forgiveness. We talk about that all the time — forgiveness. The most difficult assignment for any of us is to forgive. We cannot move forward unless there is genuine forgiveness that’s more than words.
“To actually do it — we have seen this happen. We’ve seen that in different lives and different stories.”