BARRON COUNTY, WIS. – On a normal Wednesday, 13-year-old Jayme Closs would have strode into the dance studio in Rice Lake under the glow of an autumn sunset to practice her jazz moves and get measured for a recital costume after a summer growth spurt.
On a normal Wednesday, her mother, Denise, would have chatted with the folks working the front desk, maybe shared a small joke or two, then driven her daughter to religion classes.
But these are not normal times in Barron County. The killings of Denise Closs and her husband, James, in their home on the outskirts of Barron and the disappearance of their daughter have led to a nationwide search for the girl and put people on edge.
“There’s a lot of fear, there’s a lot of anxiety through the kids, through the adults,” dance studio owner Christine Fink said as children rehearsed in rooms behind her Wednesday afternoon. “It’s opened our eyes that it can happen here.”
That painful reality was driven home when Barron County Sheriff Chris Fitzgerald announced at a news conference Wednesday that autopsies showed that the couple had been shot to death. In disclosing that detail, the sheriff issued yet another public plea for help in finding Jayme, who was in the home at the time of the killings and has not been seen since.
“Is it a random attack or a target attack? I don’t know that answer,” Fitzgerald said. “That’s why those leads are so important.”
The sheriff said that deputies arrived at the house early Monday morning within 4 minutes of the end of a 911 call from the residence, but found no suspects or gun and no sign of Jayme, who was ruled out as a suspect early on.
In the three days since, an Amber Alert has been issued to spread the word about her disappearance and dozens of investigators have tracked and dissected more than 400 tips. So far, however, they have yet to locate the girl, who officials fear is in grave danger.
Fitzgerald said Wednesday that investigators have established no motive for the killings and “have received no tips of a credible sighting” of Jayme. He added that there also are no viable suspects.
Nevertheless, he said investigators still have a “100 percent expectation” that the teen is alive.
“We want to bring Jayme home and put that smile back in her family’s hands,” he said.
Fitzgerald has yet to say how long the parents were dead before the bodies were discovered the 911 call brought deputies to the home, which is set back in woods along Hwy. 8 just west of town. Family members told CBS News in a telephone interview that the front door of the family’s home was shot in.
The sheriff said earlier this week that investigators could hear a disturbance in the background during the 911 call, but that no one talked to dispatchers.
Jayme’s grandfather, 72-year-old Robert Naiberg, said nothing seemed amiss at the family gathering that Jayme and her mother attended Sunday afternoon. He said Jayme’s father was at work at the time. James and Denise Closs were longtime employees at the Jennie-O Turkey Store in Barron, which has a hatchery and processing plant.
Naiberg, Denise Closs’ father, told the Associated Press on Tuesday that Jayme “was quiet as always” at a birthday party for another family member. Denise Closs, he said, was “a thoughtful person [who brought] a little gift for everybody” at the party.
Fitzgerald said it’s his belief the gathering was where Jayme was last known to be, adding that it was not held at the Closs home.
Residents locking doors
As the search for Jayme entered its third day Wednesday, local residents were still trying to come to terms with the stunning news.
Across Barron, a city of 3,300 about 90 miles northeast of the Twin Cities, people were locking their doors and adding security at homes and businesses. Some were talking to their children about keeping information off social media and warning against strangers.
Rumors and speculation were quietly rampant.
“It’s a scary thing,” mechanic David Bender said as he worked on a Hyundai at Richard’s Machine & Auto Service on S. 4th Street. In a community where people know each other, middle-of-the-night killings are inconceivable, he said. “We’re all wary.”
At Bushra Fashion Shop, owner Fadumo Hassan said she once walked all over town, feeling safe in the city where she’s lived for six years. Now she drives from place to place and locks everything. She’s been closing her store early, too.
“Children are scared,” she said. “Very sad.”
“It’s just the stuff of nightmares,” said Rachel Svendsen, a baker’s assistant at the Barron Bakery downtown. “I think people are just holding their families closer because of this.”
While many are in disbelief, all want answers. “If it can happen once can it happen again?” Svendsen asked. “There’s just so many unknowns.”
Svendsen said Denise Closs would stop at the bakery every few weeks or so to pick up monster cookies and brownie cookies for her family. She once bought cookie cutters in the shape of infant onesies so the bakery could make them for a baby shower.
“She just seemed like a really nice, genuine lady,” Svendsen said.
At the Barron Area Community Center, where Jim Closs’ name is listed on a board recognizing those who have exercised for 1,000 hours, local resident Mike Swanson said everybody was “on edge, waiting to find out what’s going on here.”
Swanson said he knew Jim Closs from high school athletics when Closs went to school in Ladysmith, Wis. The family was known for being active in their community, he said.
Wednesday night, Fitzgerald and victim assistance representatives met with county residents at the Wisconsin Indianhead Tech College in nearby Rice Lake, Wis., to talk about the tragedy in a session that was closed to the media.
A community aches
At Christine’s Dance Company, Fink said the mood had been “somber” with the realization that part of their family was missing.
“That ache doesn’t go away,” she said.
Jayme, a quiet, sweet girl who blossomed under encouragement, has taken dance classes since at least 2010, Fink said. She was scheduled to come in for a 5:40 p.m. class Wednesday with two other girls. Instead, Fink expected she would let Jayme’s classmates and parents talk about their missing friend.
Tearing up, Fink said she can’t help but wonder what Jayme is going through.
People feel frustrated and helpless, she acknowledged, wanting to make sure no stone is left unturned to bring Jayme home. But she said she was encouraged by Fitzgerald’s efforts, along with those of state and federal authorities.
“We have to trust the process,” Fink said. “She’s out there … we’re praying so hard for her.”
TIPS ABOUT JAYME CLOSS
Jayme is described as white, 5 feet tall, 100 pounds, with green eyes and blond or strawberry blond hair.
Anyone with information that could lead to her being found is urged to contact the Sheriff’s Office at 715-537-3106 or 911.