A 13-year-old girl spotted at a bus stop. Her home invaded by a shotgun-carrying predator who kills her father, then mother. Months at a rural Wisconsin home, hidden under a bed. The allegations following Jayme Closs’ disappearance tell a story beyond nightmares.
Her astonishing abduction and its exhilarating end — Jayme alive, running free and quickly reunited with family after 88 days missing — has understandably captivated the nation’s attention. So far, authorities have successfully balanced the public interest in justice with concern for the victim’s privacy.
Jake Patterson, 21, has been charged with kidnapping Jayme and killing her parents. The latter charges alone could carry a life sentence, and prosecutors have so far avoided spelling out details of Jayme’s captivity. There is much we don’t yet know — and maybe a few things we don’t need to.
Survivors advise giving Jayme space to process and heal. Elizabeth Smart, whose nine-month abduction at age 14 in 2002 similarly held the nation in thrall, says questions about why she didn’t run or scream wounded her. “My brain heard that question as, ‘You should have tried harder. You should have run, you should have yelled, this is somehow your fault,’ ” she told the Associated Press.
Katie Beers, rescued a quarter-century ago after being held for more than two weeks in a concrete bunker on Long Island at age 10, told the AP she attributes her recovery, in part, to the fact that “nobody forced me to talk about what happened” and that she didn’t do interviews until she was 30. Countless other victims, of course, never do an interview or tell a soul.
We advocate the public’s right to know as a guiding principle. Police and the courts must conduct business in the open, with the media as watchdog. Survivors who demand justice perform their own service to society and, often, for themselves: Trauma experts discourage forcing victims to talk publicly but note that for some, testifying can restore a much-needed sense of control.
While media routinely shield the names of sex-crime victims, the cases of missing children play out differently. Their names are shouted from the rooftops and their photos spread widely in the urgent effort to rescue them.
Jayme’s story will command a premium well beyond the crime-and-justice news cycle. She will need guidance to handle this unsought fame. While the dramatic revelations wind down for observers, her own journey is just beginning. For now, it’s providing a model for how to treat those we ask to step forward.
FROM AN EDITORIAL IN THE CHICAGO TRIBUNE