Barron, Wis. – Held captive for 88 days, Jayme Closs fell into the arms of her family Friday, having freed herself from the man authorities believe murdered her parents and then kept her against her will in a secluded home in northwestern Wisconsin.
"Jayme is the hero in this case, there's no question about it," said Barron County Sheriff Chris Fitzgerald. "It's amazing, the will of that 13-year-old girl to survive and escape."
Soon after she was found Thursday, investigators arrested Jake T. Patterson, 21, who will appear Monday in Barron County Circuit Court, where he will be charged with kidnapping and two counts of first-degree intentional homicide. He is being held in the Barron County jail.
On Friday, nearly 24 hours after Jayme escaped from the home outside Gordon, Wis., about an hour north of where she was abducted, investigators were trying to piece together why she was targeted and how she was held captive for almost three months.
"Nothing in this case shows the suspect knew anyone at the Closs home or at any time had any contact with anyone in the Closs family," Fitzgerald said. But it appears that Patterson specifically set out to kidnap Jayme and went to great lengths to minimize the chances he would leave clues at the Closs home, including shaving his head so as not to leave hair behind.
Investigators believe Patterson shot open the door of the Closs home just outside Barron, 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 that is "consistent" with the one used in the crime but are awaiting lab analysis to confirm that it's the same weapon, Fitzgerald said during a Friday news conference. Other weapons also were found in Patterson's home.
For months, investigators checked thousands of leads, searched ditches and farm fields alongside hundreds of volunteers, sent out national pleas for help, and encouraged the Barron community to hold out hope that Jayme would be found alive.
"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."
Finding the courage and a way out, Jayme escaped about 4:30 p.m. Thursday after her captor left the home, which is in a rural area where many houses are set back among trees and some go unoccupied during the winter.
Jeanne Nutter, who lives in Trempealeau County south of Eau Claire, had just arrived at her Gordon-area cabin Thursday afternoon when she took her dog for a walk. A skinny, bedraggled girl wearing slacks and shoes that obviously weren't hers and a baggy coat or sweatshirt soon approached and Nutter almost immediately knew: She was Jayme.
"She was so calm, so I tried to keep my composure," Nutter said Friday.
"The first thing she told me was, 'I'm lost and I don't know where I am and I need help.' "
The two headed to a nearby house. "This is Jayme Closs! Call 911!" Nutter told Kristin and Peter Kasinskas when they opened the door.
During her brief stay in the Kasinskas home, Jayme was quiet, her emotions "pretty flat," Peter Kasinskas said Thursday night.
She didn't realize anyone had been looking for her and was surprised the couple knew Patterson's name. Jayme didn't know who he was until after he abducted her, she told them.
" 'He killed my parents and took me,' " Peter Kasinskas recalled Jayme saying. She said she'd escaped when Patterson left after saying he would return at midnight.
Peter said he and his wife didn't question Jayme about the details of her captivity.
"We did not want to ask too many questions other than to get the police there and get her safe," Peter said. They wrapped Jayme in a blanket and offered her food and drink. She didn't want anything, but played with the couple's puppy.
When police called to say that Patterson was returning to his house, the couple took Jayme and their kids downstairs.
Fitzgerald said officers believe Patterson was looking for Jayme when they arrested him.
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.
James and Denise Closs had worked at the Jennie-O Turkey Store in Barron for 27 years. Three years ago, Patterson was hired there but quit the next day, saying he was moving from the area, according to Steve Lykken, Jennie-O Turkey Store president.
"He has not been employed with Jennie-O since then," Lykken said in a written statement.
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.
Research from the National Incidence Studies of Missing, Abducted, Runaway and Throwaway Children shows that the majority of kidnapping victims are abducted by a person they know. Nearly 40 percent of the time, that person is a close friend or long-term acquaintance. It's less likely, though not uncommon, for a child to be snatched by a stranger.
Abductors who are not known to the victim typically wait for a moment of vulnerability, like when a child is walking home alone from school, said Robert Lowery of the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children. The fact that Patterson is believed to have broken into Jayme's home and murdered her parents before kidnapping her makes the case highly unusual.
That's why Lowery held out hope that she was still alive. "If she were to be killed, we believed it would've been right there in the home," he said.
It's not unusual for a child who has been missing for weeks or months to return home. A recent review by Lowery's organization found that 5,000 children were recovered after six months or more.
"We always celebrate cases when kids come home, because it gives families hope," said Alison Feigh, director of the Jacob Wetterling Resource Center. "The important thing for the public to remember is that Jayme's healing is more important than our need for details."
A joyful reunion
As news spread Thursday night that Jayme was alive, her family was overwhelmed with joy and eagerly awaited her return to Barron, where the community rejoiced.
One of Jayme Closs' aunts, Kelly Engelhardt, said she collapsed when she heard her niece had been found alive.
"I just couldn't believe it," she said.
She almost didn't get the news. When a false report that Jayme had been found in southern Wisconsin blew up on social media Thursday afternoon, Engelhardt began ignoring phone calls and instead watched her daughter's high school basketball game, cheering on Ladysmith as the team played Barron. She was surprised when Barron County Sheriff Chief Deputy Jason Leu came looking for her.
"Why haven't you been answering my calls?" he said. Engelhardt said he "had a huge grin on his face" and walked with her out of the game and into a hallway where he could tell her the good news.
Walking back into the game, Engelhardt gave her daughter a double thumbs-up and said, "They found her!" Her daughter got up from the bench, said something to her coach and left the game. She was too winded from crying to play, she told her mother.
The good news traveled fast. The game was stopped and the announcement made: Jayme had been found alive. The crowd broke into a thunderous cheer.
"It was awesome," Engelhardt said. "Everybody cheered and came over and hugged my daughter and everybody cried."
Engelhardt said Jayme's return to the town and her family will be overwhelming. "We're going to do whatever it is that makes her comfortable and not bombard her with everything," she said.
They plan to cook a steak for Jayme — her favorite meal.
After Jayme was cleared by the hospital and talked to investigators Friday, she went home to her family. With so much lost time to make up, so much healing to begin and so much joy to express, some family members declined interviews, wanting to focus instead on their reunion.
The community also opened its arms.
Before dawn Friday in Barron, the Dairy Queen sign flashed, "Welcome home, Jayme. Thank you for bringing her home."
The joy and love rippled through the community.
"It's insurmountable," said Diane Tremblay, the superintendent of the school district where Jayme attended class. "We want to thank Jayme for being so courageous and finding the opportunity to come back to us. What an extraordinary young lady."
Staff writers Mary Lynn Smith, Liz Sawyer and Paul Walsh contributed to this report.