(By Isaac Stanley-Becker and Lindsey Bever, Washington Post)
In a wooded outpost of northwestern Wisconsin, a slender girl with matted hair and shoes too big for her feet ran out in the freezing cold Thursday and sought help from a woman walking her dog…
The woman rushed the girl to a nearby home and knocked on the door.
“This is Jayme Closs!” she told the homeowner, Kristin Kasinskas. “Call 911!”
Soon after, Barron County Sheriff Chris Fitzgerald announced that 13-year-old Jayme Closs – missing since October, when her parents were found slain in their home in Barron, Wisconsin – had been located alive after she fled her captor, ending a months-long search.
“Jayme is safe!” Fitzgerald declared during a news conference Friday morning
He added, “It’s amazing, the will of that 13-year-old girl to survive and escape.”
Authorities told reporters that Jake Thomas Patterson, 21, of Gordon, Wisconsin, has been arrested on two counts of first-degree intentional homicide in the killings of Jayme’s parents and one count of kidnapping. Patterson “planned his actions” and targeted the teen, officials said. He subsequently took “proactive steps to avoid detection” as local, state and federal law enforcement agencies looked for him and the missing girl.
Fitzgerald told reporters that investigators believe Patterson killed Jayme’s parents and then abducted her, but that the teen was the target, not her parents. It’s still unclear whether she knew Patterson or whether they had any contact before the kidnapping.
Authorities did not say how the girl escaped, only that she had fled on foot
Jayme has been evaluated at a nearby hospital and has spoken with investigators. Soon, she will be reunited with family members, authorities said.
By the time Jayme approached the dog walker Thursday, most people who live in the area had undoubtedly seen the teenager’s photo and heard about what had happened to her parents.
They also knew Jayme had vanished. It had been nearly three months since she went missing from her home in Barron, a town of about 3,400, 90 miles northeast of Minneapolis-St. Paul, Minnesota.
Suddenly, Jayme was in Douglas County, just south of Duluth, standing on Kristin and Peter Kasinskas’ doorstep.
“I honestly still think I’m dreaming right now. It was like I was seeing a ghost,” Peter Kasinskas told the Minneapolis Star Tribune. “It was scary and awesome at the same time. My jaw just went to the floor.”
The Star Tribune reported that Jayme was invited inside and offered food and water, which she declined; instead, she played with the neighbours’ puppy, Penny, and waited for police to arrive.
Kristin Kasinskas told CNN that Jayme told them she was held captive not far away
“She said to us that ‘this person killed my parents and took me,’ ” Kasinskas told CNN.
“She said that this person usually hides, or hides her when others are near, or when he has to leave the household. She did not go into detail about how she got out of the house or anything like that.”
Barron County Sheriff’s Department officials said Thursday that the teen was found at 4:43 p.m. and that, 11 minutes later, Patterson was taken into custody.
“We promised to bring Jayme home and tonight we get to fulfil that promise,” Fitzgerald wrote in a Facebook post. “From the bottom of my heart THANK YOU!”
Jeff Closs, Jayme’s uncle, told NBC affiliate KARE on Thursday that the teen’s return was shocking.
“You’re not sure if she’s going to be found,” he said, “and when you actually hear it, it’s just unbelievable. We’re all just so grateful and happy. We thought it was going to be a different ending.”
Closs said he hopes his niece is OK.
“We don’t really know what shape she’s in,” he told the station. “Or, you know, we don’t really know a lot. All we know is just she’s alive.”
Jayme’s aunt, Jen Smith, said Friday on ABC’s “Good Morning America” that when she heard that her niece had been found alive: “I just cried lots of happy tears. I just wanted to scream very loudly.”
Smith said authorities told her that her niece had escaped from her captor and was now safe and resting in a nearby hospital. She said she would be reunited with Jayme on Friday afternoon.
“I’m going to give her the biggest hug and tell her that I’m here for her and that I love her very much,” she said on the morning show.
The saga began about 1 a.m. on Oct. 15, when police received a mysterious 911 call that led them to Jayme’s family home
The front door had been kicked in, and her parents, James Closs, 56, and Denise Closs, 46, were found dead from gunshot wounds. No gun was found at the scene, and police discovered no obvious motive.
Jayme was nowhere to be found, and police believed she had been kidnapped. An Amber Alert was issued that afternoon.
“Based on our investigation thus far, we believe Jayme was in the home at the time of the homicides, and we believe she is still in danger,” Fitzgerald told reporters at the time. He added, “Here in Barron County, we all know that these things just don’t happen here.”
Local, state and federal investigators began searching for the teen
Tips poured in as her name rose to the top of the FBI’s missing persons list, and authorities offered a $50,000 reward for information leading to her recovery.
A corps of volunteers, at one point numbering 2,000 people, searched rural Barron for the girl whose disappearance, and the grisly death of her parents, shocked the Wisconsin community.
Earlier Thursday, authorities had denied reports spreading on social media that Jayme had been found in south-eastern Wisconsin after rumours circulated of a large police presence there. Her relatives feared the worst.
“There was rumours earlier today, and I prayed and prayed, and they come to not be true,” another aunt, Sue Allard, told CBS affiliate WCCO. “And I just shut myself totally down. I thought today was going to be the day, and then I find out two hours later that she’s found, and I just cannot believe this.”
When she learned that her niece was, in fact, safe, Allard said, she also cried tears of joy
“Praise the Lord,” she told the Star Tribune about the news.
A cousin, Seara Closs, took to social media to share her relief.
The National Centre for Missing and Exploited Children said it was “overjoyed” that Closs was found alive.
“Jayme is an example of why we never lose hope and never stop searching,” the organisation said on Facebook.
Author: ANA Newswire