Welcome Home Jayme” — the sentiment, and the sign, seemed to be everywhere on Friday, including at the local Dairy Queen, the kind of place where members of a small, tight-knit community like Barron, Wis., would gather.
But that sentiment extended well beyond Barron, as people throughout Wisconsin, Minnesota and even the nation welcomed a rare safe outcome to a crime that so often ends tragically.
Not this time.
Instead, 13-year-old Jayme Closs was reunited with extended family members after escaping the Douglas County home of her alleged abductor, 21-year-old Jake Thomas Patterson, who is also suspected of killing Jayme’s parents, James and Denise Closs.
The killings and kidnapping triggered an 88-day ordeal for family members — for Jayme’s relatives, of course, but also for the broader family of the western Wisconsin community and the law-enforcement professionals who never gave up on the search.
Some of those investigators were not from the area but became part of it over the past three months, Barron County Sheriff Chris Fitzgerald said Friday during a news conference.
Fitzgerald was effusive in his praise, thanking county, state and federal officials, as well as key community and school leaders, let alone everyday citizens who searched — and hoped and prayed — for Jayme.
He also especially lauded the students who volunteered to help in the search and didn’t veer from their belief that their kidnapped classmate would eventually be returned.
“Those kids believed,” he said. “When kids believe, it’s easy for adults to believe.”
The sheriff also thanked the news media for its role in reporting timely information on Jayme’s disappearance throughout the Upper Midwest. That coverage paid off when a dog walker, whom Jayme approached Thursday after escaping from her abductor, immediately recognized the teen.
Although all of us, especially investigators working the case, would have wanted to see it solved sooner, Fitzgerald deserves praise for his leadership of the investigation, even though he seemed more comfortable crediting others Friday. His pursuit of justice in this case is a credit to law enforcement everywhere.
But most of the credit should go to Jayme Closs herself.
Much more will be learned about her ordeal in the coming days. But after thousands of tips and scores working on her behalf, Jayme saved herself against all odds.
“We needed a break in this case,” said Justin Tolomeo, special agent in charge of the FBI’s Milwaukee Division. “It was Jayme herself who gave us that break.”
She also gave her community — and the country — an inspirational break with her intrepid determination to escape her captor, a fact Fitzgerald seemed to acknowledge for all when he thanked Jayme for “having the will to survive.”
The way the community came together after Jayme’s abduction — and its exultation over her escape — is a reminder that despite this era’s deep divisions, what unites us is profoundly stronger than the less important issues that sometimes divide us.
So welcome home, Jayme, and thanks to all who held out hope for your safe return.