Neighbors who knew 56-year-old Beverly Liggett describe her as a natural beauty who was never judgmental, but who struggled quietly with the challenges of caring for her mentally ill son, the one who would eventually be accused of murdering her and dismembering her body.

In a quiet, well-manicured Centennial neighborhood, Liggett, a registered nurse who had recently completed her degree, shared a modest home with her 24-year-old son Ari Liggett.

A 2007 graduate of Cherry Creek High School who went on to attend the University of Colorado at Boulder, Ari was extremely intelligent, bright and always engaged in some kind of research, said neighbor Lisa Davis.

But he was also sort of a loner who stayed inside.

“I don’t think anyone knew how bad things were,” said Davis. “They both were very private, but when I did see Beverly it was only for a brief conversation in the driveway or over the fence.”

Ari Misha Liggett PHOTO COURTESY ARAPAHOE COUNTY SHERIFF

Davis, who has lived in the neighborhood for more than a decade, said in her conversations with Beverly over the years she learned that Ari had been diagnosed with both bipolar disorder and Asperger syndrome.

“She loved her son very much and went out her way to protect him,” Davis said, “so much that she eventually gave her life for him.”

Davis’ stepson, Kyle, attended school with Ari and also described him as smart, but with few friends.

“He was just like any normal kid, just super quiet, that’s all,” said Kyle Davis. “I saw him at Chipotle about a month ago and said, `Hi, how ya doin’?’ and he’s like `Hi.’”

Shaken, neighbors say they knew too little too late.

“I don’t think anyone could have ever imagined this,” said Lisa Davis. “I mean you don’t want to invade anyone’s privacy, but we didn’t know it was this bad … she hid it very well.”

Davis added that after Ari was arrested in 2010, the family tried to get help for his condition, “but they couldn’t find a place that would take him.”

“It’s just really sad so much more money was spent on police and bomb squad and hazmat,” she said about the current case, “when really it could have been better spent on helping this kid.”

Family members reported Liggett and his mother missing on Oct. 15 after she failed to return phone calls.

Two days later, Ari was arrested on suspicion of murder when the dismembered body of an adult female was found in the back of his car.

Ari Liggett was formally charged on Oct. 23 with first-degree murder in the death of his mother.

A small memorial with flowers and stuffed animals that sits outside Beverly Liggett’s home bids farewell to the “best school nurse” from Heritage and Greenwood Elementary schools.

“I like to think that out of tragedy, some good things can come,” Davis said. “I really think we should all check on each other more often, every day.”

This story was first published in the Centennial Citizen on Oct. 26, 2012.

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