By JEFF BAENEN and GRETCHEN EHLKE, Associated Press
BARRON, Wis. (AP) — A 21-year-old man is being held in jail in connection with the deaths of a Wisconsin couple he is believed to have killed because he wanted to kidnap their teenage daughter, investigators said Friday, a day after the girl approached a stranger along a rural road saying she’d been abducted in October and held against her will.
Jake Thomas Patterson was taken into custody shortly after the 13-year-old Jayme Closs sought help from a woman walking her dog in a rural, heavily wooded neighborhood near the small town of Gordon, about 60 miles north of Barron. Jayme had disappeared from her family’s home near Barron after her parents were killed on Oct. 15.
Barron County Sheriff Chris Fitzgerald said during a news conference on Friday that Jayme was taken against her will. He said investigators believe Patterson killed Jayme’s parents because he wanted to abduct Jayme, and that Patterson “planned his actions and took many steps to hide his identity.”
Fitzgerald said investigators believe the girl was “the only target” and don’t believe Patterson had any contact with the family. Douglas County Sheriff Thomas Dalbec said Patterson was jailed on charges of kidnapping and homicide.
The woman who first spotted Jayme on Thursday, Jeanne Nutter, said she was walking her dog along a rural road when a disheveled teenage girl called out to her for help and quickly grabbed her. Only then did Jayme reveal her name.
Nutter said Jayme told her she had walked away from a cabin where she’d been held captive, a cabin not far from Nutter’s home.
“I was terrified, but I didn’t want to show her that,” Nutter, a social worker who spent years working in child protection, told The Associated Press on Friday. “She just yelled, ‘Please help me. I don’t know where I am. I’m lost.'”
Nutter added: “My only thought was to get her to a safe place.” The two went to the home of Peter and Kristin Kasinskas, who said Jayme was skinny and dirty, wearing shoes too big for her feet, but appeared outwardly all right.
Kristin Kasinskas, who called 911 to report the girl had been found, told the AP on Friday that Jayme had identified the suspect once she was safely inside her home.
“She said that this person’s name was Jake Patterson, he killed my parents and took me,” Kasinskas said. “She did not talk about why or how. She said she did not know him.”
Patterson lived just three doors down from Kasinskas, but Kasinskas said she didn’t realize how close he was until police identified him as the suspect. Kasinskas said she had taught Patterson science in middle school, but added: “I don’t really remember a ton about him.”
She said she never saw Patterson on her street or in town, and doesn’t remember seeing him since he was in high school.
“He seemed like a quiet kid,” she said. “I don’t recall anything that would have explained this, by any means.”
Fitzgerald said Closs was taken to a hospital but has since been medically cleared and released. She was being interviewed by law-enforcement officials, the sheriff said.
Jayme went missing after someone had broke into the family’s home outside Barron and killed her parents, James and Denise Closs. Jayme was nowhere to be found. The Barron County Sheriff’s Department said the girl had most likely been abducted.
Detectives pursued thousands of tips, watched dozens of surveillance videos and conducted numerous searches in an effort to find Jayme. Some tips led officials to recruit 2,000 volunteers in October for a massive ground search that yielded no clues.
Fitzgerald said in November that he had 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 in 2002 from her home in Salt Lake City. Smart was rescued nine months later with the help of two witnesses who recognized her abductors from an “America’s Most Wanted” episode.
“I have a gut feeling she’s (Jayme’s) still alive,” Fitzgerald said at the time.
On Friday, Smart posted on her Instagram account that it was a “miracle” Jayme had been found alive. Smart said the girl’s family should be given “space and privacy on their road to finding a new sense of normal and moving forward.”
“Whatever other details may surface, the most important will still remain that she is alive,” Smart said.
During the 20 minutes Jayme was in their home, Peter and Kristin Kasinskas said they tried to make her feel more comfortable. They offered her water and food, but she declined both. Jayme was quiet, her emotions “pretty flat,” Peter Kasinskas said.
Jayme told the couple she didn’t know where she was or anything about Gordon, a town home to about 644 people in a heavily forested region where logging is the top industry. From what she told them, they believed she was there for most of her disappearance.
The Douglas County Sheriff’s Office confirmed on its website that Jayme was found in the town at 4:43 p.m. Thursday, and that a suspect was taken into custody 11 minutes later.
Jayme’s grandfather, Robert Naiberg, told the AP on Friday that he’d been praying for months for the call he received onThursday about his granddaughter’s being found alive.
Naiberg said his daughter called him with the news, saying Jayme reported having been held by “a guy in the woods” but was able to escape.
Sue Allard, Jayme’s aunt, told the Star Tribune newspaper that she could barely express her joy after learning the news Thursday night.
“Praise the Lord,” Allard said between sobs. “It’s the news we’ve been waiting on for three months. I can’t wait to get my arms around her. I just can’t wait.”