GORDON, Wis. — When Jayme Closs, 13, vanished on the night that her parents were fatally shot in their rural home, scores of law enforcement officials converged on western Wisconsin. Hundreds of tips flowed in. Family members issued tearful pleas.
But in the end, it was Jayme herself who broke the case: She emerged along a wooded road on Thursday afternoon about an hour from her home, her hair matted and wearing ill-fitting shoes, and asked for help from a passing stranger who was out walking a dog. The middle schooler, whose smiling photo had appeared on signs and leaflets all over the state, had escaped from a captor who had been holding her for months, the authorities said, bringing shock, relief and a sudden end to a mystery that had shaken this icy, pine-lined region of Wisconsin.
“Jayme is the hero in this case,” Chris Fitzgerald, the sheriff of Barron County, said.
By Friday morning, officials announced that they were holding a local man, Jake T. Patterson, 21, pending formal charges of kidnapping and murder. Jayme had directed the authorities to him, they said, by providing a description of his car. He was found — in his car, apparently out searching for Jayme — not long after Jayme appeared along the road near Gordon, about 65 miles north of Barron, where the Closs family had lived.
But the discovery of Jayme, who went home with an aunt on Friday after being examined in a hospital, and the arrest of Mr. Patterson, who had no known criminal record in Wisconsin, left many unanswered questions. What was the motive for the double killings and the kidnapping? And how had Jayme been held for months in a home without anyone in the area noticing?
Jayme Closs, 13, was found nearly three months after her parents were fatally shot at their home in Wisconsin. Law enforcement authorities said that Jake T. Patterson, 21, was being held as a suspect in her disappearance.Published OnCreditCreditTim Gruber for The New York Times
Of the many questions people were asking, Sheriff Fitzgerald said, “Believe me, so are we.”
Sheriff Fitzgerald said the authorities believed that Jayme had been targeted by her kidnapper, but that they so far knew of no connection or contact between Mr. Patterson and the Closs family. Mr. Patterson had once worked at the same turkey plant that Jayme’s parents, James and Denise Closs, worked at for years before their deaths. But Mr. Patterson’s stint there three years ago had lasted a day, officials said, and there was no hint of any contact with the Closses or their daughter.
“We’re very happy that she is alive,” Jayme’s uncle, Jeff Closs, said in a text message. Just when the family started to give up hope, Mr. Closs said, “we got the greatest news ever.”
On Friday, Jayme’s aunt Jennifer Smith shared a selfie with Jayme, who was holding her dog, Molly, and smiling.
Jayme had been missing since Oct. 15, when the authorities found her parents dead in their home; the front door was open and Jayme was gone. The double killing of the Closses, a quiet couple, and the disappearance of their daughter stunned Barron, a town of just over 3,400. A manhunt drew more than 2,100 tips and thousands of volunteers. All over town, shops and homes hung green ribbons bearing the words “Find Jayme Closs.” The local police force of 78 swelled as a corps of 200 federal, state and local officers joined a hunt that went on day and night.
Her disappearance also drew national attention, and her name topped the F.B.I.’s missing persons list as the reward for her recovery grew to $50,000.
Jayme Closs, right, with her aunt Jennifer Smith in a photo shared on Friday.CreditJennifer Smith
On Friday, signs that read “Welcome home Jayme” appeared on many stores along Highway 8 through Barron — gas stations, churches, a collision center, a farm-equipment supplier, the Dairy Queen.
The news spread quickly, and even those who did not know the teenager said they were overcome. “I started shaking,” said Sharon Masek, 65, a manager at a sand and gravel supplier in Barron. “We had been wishing for this for so, so long.”
Next door to the Closses home, Joan Smrekar, a retiree who had heard gunshots on the night that the Closses were killed, said she could end her daily habit of staring out at the neighbor’s property and wondering where Jayme was.
“Up until yesterday,” Ms. Smrekar said, “I would go out in the kitchen and I’d look out that kitchen window and it was like, ‘God, I wish I knew if you were out there. If you can’t come back, let us know where you’re at.’”
But even with this news, she said, closure would be hard to come by. Ms. Smrekar cried as she spoke.
“It’s like, where do you begin the end,” she said.
Near Gordon, a town that had not known that it had any connection to the case, residents were shaken as they learned that Jayme — the missing girl they had read about — had been among them all along. The home where the authorities said she had been held was in a wooded cul-de-sac known as Eau Claire Acres. Some residents said the beloved seclusion of this part of northwestern Wisconsin, known for its lakeside cabins and ATV trails, was also probably what kept Jayme out of sight for so long.
“What bothers me the most is that we didn’t know,” said Dolly McNamara, 66, who owns a nearby bar. “We watch over each other’s cabins when they’re gone. We see tracks going to someone’s cabin that we know is not there, we go and check.
“Everyone keeps an eye out,” she said. “I guess it’s just never enough.”
Residents said they were unaware of Mr. Patterson; they had never met or seen him, many said, even though the authorities said he had lived in the area for years. Mr. Patterson, who was unemployed, graduated from the Northwood School District in nearby Minong, Wis., in May 2015, according to a school official, Jean Serum. “He was a quiet but good student,” Ms. Serum said. He had been a member of the quiz bowl team.
“We never lock the door up here, and we did lock the door last night,” said Jill Logghe, 63, a teacher who has a cabin in the area. “The restlessness last night was, ‘How could he have acted alone?’”
A neighbor, Daphne Ronning, told The Chicago Sun-Times that Mr. Patterson and a brother grew up in the house that the authorities say Jayme was held in, and that at some point their parents had moved out, but the two sons continued to live in the home. “We had some problems with them when they were teenagers — we caught them siphoning gas,” Ms. Ronning said.
Gordon is in a region of Wisconsin known for its lakeside cabins and ATV trails. Right, a snowmobile trail near where Jayme Closs was found.CreditTim Gruber for The New York Times
The authorities have said they do not have any additional suspects in the kidnapping or killings beyond Jake Patterson, who is expected to face formal charges on Monday.
No one from Mr. Patterson’s immediate or extended family could be reached. It was not known if he had been appointed a lawyer.
On Thursday afternoon, Jeanne Nutter, a social worker near Gordon, had been out walking her dog, when Jayme suddenly approached her.
Ms. Nutter brought the girl to the nearby home of Kristin and Peter Kasinskas, who told The Minneapolis Star Tribune that Ms. Nutter had said: “This is Jayme Closs! Call 911!”
As they waited for the authorities to arrive, the family offered Jayme food and water and introduced her to their puppy. The couple said Jayme told them she did not know where she was, the newspaper reported.
“It was like I was seeing a ghost,” Peter Kasinskas told The Star Tribune. “It was scary and awesome at the same time. My jaw just went to the floor.”