BARRON, Wis. —A 21-year-old man from rural Wisconsin was identified Friday and jailed as the suspect who killed the parents of 13-year-old Jayme Closs and abducted the girl from the family’s home here nearly three months ago.
Jayme was reunited with an aunt, Barron County Sheriff Chris Fitzgerald said at a Friday afternoon news conference, and will meet up with the rest of her family later.
Jayme was located in Douglas County, Wis., about an hour’s drive north of her home, late Thursday afternoon, and suspect Jake T. Patterson was quickly pulled over in a car nearby and arrested without resistance thanks to a vehicle description the teen provided, Douglas County Sheriff Tom Dalbec said during a news conference in Barron.
Jayme appeared bedraggled and thin Thursday afternoon after escaping her captor and seeking help from neighbors in a remote area several miles from Gordon, Wis.
Fitzgerald said Patterson was not at home when Jayme escaped. He did not know how she escaped.
Law enforcement officials and others who spoke during a news conference late Friday morning in Barron praised the teen for surviving, escaping and providing the key piece of information that led to the arrest of the man believed responsible for fatally shooting her parents and keeping her captive and undetected for weeks.
“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.”
Fitzgerald said Patterson acted alone, targeted Jayme specifically and was in his jail Friday. A criminal complaint charging Patterson with two counts of homicide and one count of kidnapping is expected to be filed next week, the District Attorney’s Office said at the Friday news briefing.
“It’s amazing, the will of that 13-year-old girl to survive and escape,” Fitzgerald said.
District Attorney Brian Wright said he does not believe Patterson, said to be unemployed, had any prior contact with the Closs family.
Patterson was hired at Jennie-O Turkey Store in Barron three years ago but quit the very next day, according to Steve Lykken, Jennie-O Turkey Store president. Jayme’s parents —James and Denise Closs —worked at the company for 27 years.
Lykken said Patterson quit after being hired, saying he was moving from the area. “He has not been employed with Jennie-O since then,” Lykken said in the written statement.
Fitzgerald said Friday afternoon that Patterson is believed to not to have known anyone at the Closs home.
“That is the key question: Why and how he was able to hide this over 88 days,” Fitzgerald said.
Friday afternoon, Fitzgerald said that a gun was recovered as well as a shotgun, which authorities believed was used to enter the Closs home.
“I can tell you the suspect planned his actions and took many proactive steps to hide his identity from law enforcement and the general public,” Wright said.
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 did not say what those ties were.
Patterson is scheduled to appear in court on Monday. The sheriff said officials are not looking for any other suspects at the time.
Diane Tremblay, the superintendent of the school district where Jayme attended class, told the news gathering, “There is so much love and hugs in our district today. It’s just insurmountable.
“We want to thank Jayme for being so courageous and finding the opportunity to come back to us. What an extraordinary young lady.”
Jayme had not been seen or heard from since her disappearance in the wee hours of Oct. 15. Several intensive searches took place in the area in the days that followed, but none yielded any valid clues, and for weeks Fitzgerald kept saying authorities had no new leads.
According to the Douglas County sheriff, Jayme was found east of Gordon at 4:43 p.m. Thursday, and Patterson was arrested minutes later. She was examined at a hospital late Thursday in the Duluth-Superior area.
Jeanne Nutter was walking her golden retriever, Henry, Thursday afternoon when she saw a girl walking toward her. As the girl got closer, Nutter knew almost immediately that she was Jayme by the photo that had been all over the news for months and plastered on posters in businesses fronts.
The girl was wearing slacks and shoes that obviously weren’t hers, a baggy coat or sweatshirt.
“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.’”
She and the girl headed to a nearby house, where Kristin and Peter Kasinskas live. “This is Jayme Closs! Call 911!” the Nutter told the couple.
Jayme was quiet, her emotions “pretty flat,” Peter Kasinskas said.
Jayme didn’t know anybody had been looking for her and was surprised the couple knew Patterson’s name. Jayme said she didn’t know him before he abducted her.
“‘He killed my parents and took me,’” Peter Kasinskas said recalled Jayme saying.
Jayme told the couple that other people had been at the house during the time she was held there, but Patterson kept her hidden.
Jayme said that Patterson was gone at the time she escaped but said he would return at midnight.
Peter Kasinskas said that he and his wife didn’t ask Jayme questions 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 Kasinskas 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 got the kids downstairs. The police had him within five minutes, the couple said.
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The sparsely populated area where Jayme was located is a cluster of about 30 homes originally built around 50 years ago as cabins near the Eau Claire River. Most of the homes are unoccupied during the winter months. The land is hilly and heavily forested. Many homes are set back among trees.
Before dawn Friday in Barron, the Dairy Queen sign was flashing, “Welcome home Jayme. Thank you for bringing her home.”
People throughout the town of 3,400 residents about 90 miles northeast of the Twin Cities, were upbeat, too.
“It’s a miracle,” said resident Ron Wheeler as he ate an egg-and-ham breakfast at the counter of Seasons Cafe. “Everybody thought she would never come back.”
Barron Mayor Ron Fladten said everybody is “elated” after such a difficult three months that wounded his community, which he called “solid Midwest.”
“It’s like a dark cloud has been hanging over our head for about 88 days,” Fladten said.