One year after she was abducted at gunpoint and taken on a daylong trek in the back seat of her Lincoln Town Car, Vi Ripken still can't help worrying when she pulls into a parking spot and another car pulls up behind her.
Ripken, the 75-year-old mother of Orioles legend Cal Ripken Jr., said in her first interview about the abduction last July 24 that she often finds herself startled by "thoughts you shouldn't be thinking." Her captor remains at large, and police are again appealing to the public for clues.
She said she is working on finding a balance between being scared and being vigilant.
"I didn't want to go and hide," Ripken said as she took in a game at the Aberdeen IronBirds' stadium that bears her family's name. "I felt like if I keep away from things, it's not going to be very fun for me. I just had to face it.
"I didn't do anything wrong, and I didn't want to be made to feel like I did."
The bizarre kidnapping drew national headlines and attention to the tiny Aberdeen community that closely identifies with the Ripken baseball dynasty. Vi Ripken still lives in the community where she raised Cal and his siblings with her husband, the late Cal Ripken Sr., once the Orioles manager.
Chamber of Commerce President Steve Johnson said the community is taking its cues from the Ripkens.
"Vi still gets out and walks around," he said. "That really sets the community at ease. The attitude of the Ripken family and Vi herself has made people feel a lot more comfortable. Life goes on."
Aberdeen police say the case remains open and on Wednesday sought the news media's help in distributing the suspect's photo, a sketch and video that had previously been released. "No additional details regarding the suspect or his motive have been developed," the department said in a news release.
Ripken was abducted at gunpoint from the garage of her Harford County home where she has lived for nearly 50 years. She was bound in the back of her car and driven around Central Maryland for nearly 24 hours.
A neighbor found her unharmed and waving a white sweater out of her car window after she was dropped off within yards of her home. Nearby, police were setting up a perimeter.
"Whatever was on this person's mind, I can just be thankful I wasn't hurt," Ripken said. "The why and everything else maybe will come one day."
Aberdeen police declined to discuss the case, and other law enforcement agencies that assisted in the investigation deferred comment to local authorities.
Ripken said she's not privy to the ins and outs of the investigation and that police asked her not to describe the details of the kidnapping publicly.
Some details have emerged, however. Shortly after her return, a longtime neighbor recounted information she had relayed about the ordeal, including that the suspect blindfolded her, but lit cigarettes for her and gave her food.
The suspect is believed to be white, in his mid-30s to mid-40s, roughly 180 pounds and about 5 feet, 10 inches tall. He had short brown hair and glasses.
The video is a 35-second clip that shows him shopping at a Walmart in Glen Burnie.
Ripken said she has confidence in the Aberdeen police.
Still, she said, "I'd much rather ... he would have been caught."
Ripken said her daughter, Elly, wouldn't allow her to be alone for a time after the incident. But after a while, she started returning to the beauty salon for haircuts and stopping by the IronBirds games. She eventually resumed her old routine.
On Tuesday at the ballgame, Ripken's characteristic low-key nature was on display. She interacted with fans and posed for a picture with a little boy as she moved through the stadium.
She's found the hometown crowd to be "very supportive and protective." Ripken said she's probably missed only two or three games since the stadium opened a decade ago.
"I've had people say, 'If I were you, I wouldn't be out,' " she said.
Baseball fans at the IronBirds game were impressed by Ripken's resilience.
"It hasn't slowed her down any," said Kent Day of Abingdon, who was at the game with his wife, Dawn, and their two young daughters. The couple said they are surprised the case hasn't been solved, but they added that people in the area don't spend much time talking about it anymore.
Debbie Salemi, an IronBirds half-season ticket holder from Bel Air, said the kidnapping struck her as "so weird."
"There is more to the story than what's coming out," Salemi said.
Brian Mayo, who took his son, Austin, to the game, said the Ripkens, especially the family's matriarch, have displayed character throughout the ordeal.
"I thought it was a crying shame that it had to happen to a person who didn't deserve it," the Bel Air man said. "I guess there is frustration. So many cases go unsolved."
Despite the lack of resolution in the case a year later, community leaders said the police are chasing down every lead.
"They are still doing everything possible to bring that person to justice," said Johnson, the chamber president.
Even with the suspect at large, Aberdeen Mayor Michael E. Bennett said residents do not feel unsafe.
"Most of the people in the community have moved on," Bennett said. "We have an award-winning police department. I do know they are putting every resource available to this. They are not about to give up.
"This was a very isolated thing that happened, that we wish didn't happen."
"Anyone can be a victim anytime and anywhere. I think people realize that," Johnson said. "There are a lot of crimes across the country that don't get solved immediately, but eventually many of them do get solved. I know the Aberdeen Police Department has not put this on the shelf."
Police ask anyone with information to call 410-265-8080.
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