BARRON, WIS. – Two Catholic parishes at the center of Jayme Closs’ life celebrated her homecoming Sunday morning, with many calling her return a testament to the power of faith.
At St. Joseph Church in Barron and at St. Peters Church in nearby Cameron, dozens of people gathered in the same spaces where they had prayed for 88 days that the 13-year-old girl would come home.
“We are overjoyed and we couldn’t be happier. It’s a miracle and it’s wonderful,” said Mary Haas, who attends St. Joseph. “We prayed and prayed and prayed.”
At St. Peters, Larry Leff said the teen’s return was evidence of the power of God.
“It’s a great day up in our area. God answered all our prayers,” he said, adding that he was “tingly” walking into church.
Both churches offered prayers for Jayme, her family and friends, and those who searched for her until Thursday, when she escaped from the man authorities believe killed her parents and abducted her from the family’s home Oct. 15.
Authorities say Jake T. Patterson, 21, held her against her will at his cabin near Gordon, Wis., about an hour north of the Closs home in Barron.
Patterson is expected to be charged Monday with kidnapping and two counts of first-degree intentional homicide.
At a news conference Sunday night, his two public defenders said they planned to request that Patterson appear in person for his first appearance, instead of via closed-circuit video, which is standard procedure. Charles Glynn and Richard Jones also hinted they would seek a change of venue for his trial, according to a video of the news conference shown by Fox 9.
Authorities on Sunday also opened the road to the cabin, which was mostly hidden by trees. Several snow-covered cars sat in the driveway leading to the two-story brown and tan home with a nearby garage and shed.
After fleeing the cabin, Jayme approached a woman walking a dog to ask for help. The two went to the home of a neighbor, who called 911. Jayme, who looked bedraggled and malnourished, told the residents, and later police, that Patterson had hidden her in his home for the nearly three months she was missing, concealing her when anyone visited.
On Friday, Jayme was released from a Duluth hospital and returned to the Barron home of her aunt, Jennifer Smith, who has since posted photos of a smiling Jayme on the “Healing for Jayme Closs” Facebook page.
Jayme wasn’t present Sunday morning at St. Joseph, where her aunt reportedly goes to church. Nor was she at St. Peters, where her religious education classes and her parents’ funeral were held. Her immediate family didn’t appear to be in attendance, either.
But many at each of the churches, which are part of a consolidated cluster of parishes, gladly spoke about Jayme and her safe return.
“I think the thing that’s outstanding to me is the lady that she went to was a child protection worker,” said Margaret Sailor, a St. Peters member since 1974. “I just think that the holy spirit was instrumental to guiding these people to be there at the right time.”
Juan Valadez worked with Jayme’s father, James Closs, at Jennie-O Turkey Store for at least a decade and recalled him as being friendly. He said the crime hit people who worked with the Closses especially hard — and said it was a “great feeling” to have Jayme back.
“I’ve asked people, ‘Do you believe in miracles?’ They say ‘yes,’ and I say, ‘Well, we just had one today,’ ” said Valadez, who sat at the back of St. Joseph with his wife and daughter.
The priest who normally serves the parishes was out of the country, but the visiting priest praised the community’s response to the tragedy.
“You have shown to the whole world the value of human life in your searches for that one child,” said the Rev. Victor Karls before delivering a sermon about poverty.
Christmas decorations — poinsettias and pine trees — still sat on each church’s altar during both services. After mass was over at St. Joseph, churchgoers helped take them down.
Haas carefully moved each piece of the large Nativity set on the altar into a cardboard box. Then she packed up the Christmas lights and cleared out the poinsettias, officially putting an end to the season.
Haas said she received a phone call from the parishes’ regular priest, the Rev. Balaraju Policetty, who is in India. Policetty said he was overjoyed to hear about Jayme’s return. “He can’t wait for the celebrations,” Haas said.
Juri Apanecatl-Juarez, 13, and her brother Jeri, 10, both attend the same middle school as Jayme. They saw her in the halls, they said, but didn’t know her.
The siblings were altar servers at St. Joseph together Sunday morning and joined other members of the parish for treats in the church basement after mass was over.
Their mother, Marina Apanecatl, said that the family had prayed every day for Jayme. “It was pretty sad,” Juri Apanecatl said. “But when we heard the good news, we were all happy.”
Kelly Brunkow of Barron described where she was Thursday night when she heard that Jayme was safe — at a high school basketball game in Barron. The team was playing Ladysmith, James Closs’ hometown, and Jayme Closs’ aunt was in the stands. Suddenly, the game stopped and the principal read Barron County Sheriff Chris Fitzgerald’s statement about Jayme being found alive. The gym erupted with cheers and crying, she said.
“I think a lot of us didn’t believe it was real,” Brunkow said.
Investigators believe Patterson shot open the door of the Closs home, gunned down Denise and James Closs and then abducted Jayme in the early morning hours of Oct. 15. They said they found a gun in Patterson’s home “consistent” with the one used in the crime, but are awaiting lab analysis to confirm that it’s the same weapon. Other weapons also were found in Patterson’s home.
So far, investigators haven’t been able to say why Patterson, a lifelong resident of Gordon, would have targeted Jayme. They haven’t found any connection — either personal or on social media — to the girl or her family.
Fitzgerald said Patterson has no criminal history in Wisconsin or the Gordon area and “was not on our radar.” Patterson does have ties to Barron, Fitzgerald said, but he did not provide details.