MADISON, Wis. — The grandfather of a northwestern Wisconsin girl who was abducted during a home invasion that left her parents dead said Saturday that the family has no connection to the suspect and doesn’t understand why he targeted her, deepening a mystery that has captivated the state for months.
Someone blasted open the door of James and Denise Closs’ home near Barron in October, gunned the couple down and made off with their 13-year-old daughter, Jayme Closs.
Jayme was missing for nearly three months when she approached a stranger in the small, isolated north woods town of Gordon and pleaded for help. Officers arrested 21-year-old Jake Thomas Patterson minutes later based on Jayme’s description of his vehicle. He was jailed on suspicion of kidnapping and homicide.
Investigators have said Patterson’s goal was to kidnap Jayme, but he appears to have no connection to the family. Jayme’s grandfather Robert Naiberg said in a telephone interview Saturday that the only thing the family knows for sure is no one knew Patterson. He said that Jayme told FBI agents she didn’t know him at all.
“He didn’t know Jayme, he didn’t know Denise or Jim,” Naiberg said. “(Jayme) don’t know him from Adam. (But) he knew what he was doing. We don’t know if he was stalking her or what. Did he see her somewhere?”
The news that Jayme was safe set off joy and relief in her hometown of Barron, population 3,300 and about 60 miles (96 kilometres) from where she was found. The discovery ended an all-out search that gripped the state, with many people fearing the worst the longer she was missing.
“My legs started to shake. It was awesome. The stress, the relief — it was awesome,” Barron County Sheriff Chris Fitzgerald said, describing the moment he learned Jayme had been found.
Jayme told one of the neighbours in Gordon who took her in that she had walked away from a cabin where she had been held captive.
“She said that this person’s name was Jake Patterson, ‘he killed my parents and took me,’” said another neighbour, Kristin Kasinskas. “She did not talk about why or how. She said she did not know him.”
The sheriff said investigators are trying to figure out what happened to Jayme during her captivity and why she was seized, and gave no details on how she escaped except to say Patterson was not home at the time. He said there is no evidence Patterson knew Jayme or her family or had been in contact with her on social media.
“I know all of you are searching for the answer why any of this happened,” Fitzgerald said. “Believe me, so are we.”
Patterson took such measures as shaving his head beforehand to avoid leaving evidence at the scene, the sheriff said. A shotgun was recovered from the home where Jayme was believed held, according to Fitzgerald.
Property records show that the cabin belonged to Patterson’s father at the time of Jayme’s disappearance.
The sheriff said that he did not know whether Jayme had been physically abused.
Naiberg, Jayme’s grandfather, said he spent a few hours with her on Friday. No one pressed her to talk, he said, adding that FBI agents and doctors advised them to let her speak when she’s ready. He said she was largely silent and did not talk about how Patterson had kept her confined.
Patterson was scheduled for an initial court appearance Monday. It was not immediately known whether the unemployed Patterson had an attorney. Prosecutors anticipate filing homicide and kidnapping charges against him on Monday. With those charges will come a criminal complaint that could reveal more details.
Patterson remained largely an enigma Saturday.
He has no criminal record, the sheriff said. He worked for one day in 2016 at the same Jennie-O turkey plant in Barron as Jayme’s parents. But the sheriff said it did not appear Patterson interacted with the couple during his brief time there.
He graduated in 2015 from Northwood High School, where he was on the quiz bowl team and was a good student with a “great group of friends,” said District Superintendent Jean Serum.
Kasinskas said she taught Patterson science in middle school, but added: “I don’t really remember a ton about him.”
“He seemed like a quiet kid,” she said. “I don’t recall anything that would have explained this, by any means.”
Over the past few months, detectives pursued thousands of tips, watched dozens of surveillance videos and conducted numerous searches for Jayme, including one that drew 2,000 volunteers but yielded no clues.
In November, the sheriff said he kept similar cases in the back of his mind as he worked to find Jayme, including the abduction of Elizabeth Smart, who was 14 when she was taken from her Salt Lake City home in 2002. Smart was rescued nine months later after witnesses recognized her abductors on an “America’s Most Wanted” episode.
Smart said in a telephone interview that Jayme’s story is “why we can never give up hope on any missing child.”