Sheriff: Jayme a 'hero'; guns found at home of suspected kidnapper
Updated 6:50 p.m. | Posted 8:47 a.m.
Authorities searching for Jayme Closs, the 13-year-old girl who went missing after her parents were found shot to death in their Barron, Wis., home, had been hoping for a big break in the case after nearly three months of trying to find her.
That break came late Thursday from Jayme herself when she managed to escape her suspected captor and flag down a woman walking her dog in Gordon, Wis., a small town about an hour north of Barron.
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An emotional Barron County Sheriff Chris Fitzgerald told reporters Friday morning that the suspect, Jake Thomas Patterson, 21, a Gordon, Wis., man, took Jayme against her will and has been arrested in connection with her kidnapping and the killing of her parents on Oct. 15.
Authorities, he said, believe Jayme was the only target and that Patterson, who is being held in the Barron County Jail, did not have prior contact with the Closs family. It was still unclear, he said, why he targeted Jayme.
But the family's timeline briefly crossed paths with Patterson's nearly three years ago, when Patterson was hired at the Jennie-O Turkey Store, where James and Denise Closs worked for 27 years. Steve Lykken, president of the company, said Patterson quit the day after he was hired, saying he was planning to move from the area.
Fitzgerald said he didn't think Patterson ever encountered the Closs family in person during his time at Jennie-O. Lykken added that Patterson hadn't been rehired by the company since.
Fitzgerald added more detail during a 4 p.m. press conference, telling reporters that Patterson had weapons in his home, including a shotgun similar to what was believed to have been used to blast the door at the Closs family home on Oct. 15 and kill Jayme's parents, but that tests were needed to verify if it was the same weapon.
Fitzgerald said kidnapping Jayme was the main reason Patterson went to the Closs home that night. Why he chose her remains a mystery. The sheriff said that authorities know of no contact between Patterson and the family until that night.
Patterson, he added, had worked deliberately to hide his trail, including shaving his head so as not to leave hair behind at the scene.
"This case from Day 1 has concerned me ... the volatility of this crime," he said.
Intentional homicide and kidnapping charges are expected to be filed Monday. Fitzgerald said authorities are not looking for any other suspects and that Patterson had no prior criminal record in Wisconsin.
MPR News typically does not name criminal suspects until they are charged but decided to name Patterson now given the high-profile nature of the case.
Patterson was pulled over in his vehicle and arrested near the Gordon residence where Jayme was held, said Thomas Dalbec, sheriff of Douglas County in Wisconsin. Jayme had described the vehicle to authorities.
On Friday afternoon, Fitzgerald said Patterson was not at the house when Jayme escaped but was believed to be driving around trying to find her when he was pulled over.
Jayme returned Friday to Barron, where she was reunited with her aunt.
Fitzgerald praised the teen's fortitude and will to survive during the 88-day ordeal. "Jayme is the hero in this case. There's no doubt about it," he added late Friday.
The Douglas County Sheriff's Office said Jayme was found at 4:43 p.m. Thursday.
The girl appeared unkempt, looked as though she had lost weight and was wearing shoes that were too big for her when she showed up at Kristin Kasinskas' front door in Gordon, Wis.
Kasinskas said Jayme flagged down one of her neighbors, Jeanne Nutter, who was walking her dog Thursday.
"She opened up our door and said this is Jayme Closs, call 911. And so we called 911," Kasinskas said.
Nutter had been out walking her dog when she said Jayme approached her on the road, saying she was lost and needed help.
They ran to the Kasinskas house.
"They got in the house, and I loaded a gun and got ready and was standing at the door waiting until the police showed up, because she (Jayme) said she didn't know when he was coming back," Peter Kasinskas recounted to the Associated Press. "When she was sitting on my couch, I couldn't believe it. I just said to her, 'I am so happy to see you,' because I thought she was dead."
"I know she's a child who's been incredibly traumatized," Jeanne Nutter said Friday. "I'm guessing she was probably a little bit in shock and she was cold, and what a brave kid. She took a big leap of faith to just walk out the door and hope she'd find somebody, and it was a damn miracle that I just happened to be out there at the same time."
Since mid-October, detectives have pursued thousands of tips, watched dozens of surveillance videos and spent countless hours searching for the missing teen.
Neighbors, family and volunteers gathered to help with searches of the area. Deer hunters were asked to keep an eye out for any evidence that might offer a break in the case.
Local investigators were aided by the Wisconsin Division of Criminal Investigation and the FBI. A reward of $50,000 was offered for relevant information, half of which was contributed by Jennie-O Turkey.
Fitzgerald, who earlier in the day Thursday had to shoot down an unfounded rumor that Jayme had been discovered in southeastern Wisconsin, said Friday that his legs started to shake when she was confirmed found in Douglas County.
"It was awesome. It was just — the stress and relief — it was just awesome," he said.
"In cases like this, we often need a big break," FBI Special Agent in Charge Justin Tolomeo told reporters. "And it was Jayme herself who gave us that break."