A 21-year-old Wisconsin man has been charged with holding a 13-year-old girl captive and murdering her parents, a day after the teen managed to escape and was discovered by a woman walking her dog.
Thousands of volunteers and hundreds of law enforcement officers had searched around the clock around the small town of Barron after Jayme Closs‘ parents were found shot dead in their home, the front door open and the girl gone.
Relying on what Barron County Sheriff Chris Fitzgerald called “the will of a kid to survive,” Jayme escaped a house in the tiny town of Gordon where she had been held captive for three months, about 60 miles north of Barron.
A woman walking her dog who found Jayme hurried her to a neighbour’s house to call authorities.
“This is Jayme Closs!” the woman said when the neighbour opened the door, according to the Star Tribune of Minneapolis. “Call 911!”
Both the woman and the neighbour recognised the teenager immediately due to the enormous public campaign after her disappearance, Mr Fitzgerald said.
Less than 15 minutes later, Jake Patterson, 21, was in custody, after police pulled over his vehicle, based on Jayme’s description.
Patterson, an unemployed resident of Gordon, has been charged with kidnapping and with murdering James and Denise Closs, whose bodies were discovered on October 15.
He was being held in the Barron County jail and it was not yet clear whether he had a lawyer.
More than 200 law enforcement officials were on the ground around the clock in the days after Jayme’s disappearance, sifting through thousands of tips but finding little to go on.
The search that stretched across cornfields and wooded areas drew 1,500 volunteers, nearly half as many people as the entire 3,400-person population of Barron, which sits about 90 miles northeast of Minneapolis.
Hundreds of locals had attended a Christmas tree-lighting ceremony at Riverview Middle School, which Jayme attended, in her honour last month.
The “tree of hope” was decorated with messages and lighted in blue, Jayme’s favourite color, and green to symbolise missing child awareness, the Star Tribune reported.
Jayme was speaking to investigators on Friday after spending a night in the hospital for evaluation. Authorities did not offer details about the conditions of her captivity or how she managed to escape.
She was due to be reunited with her extended family later Friday.
“I just cried … lots of happy tears,” Jen Smith, Jayme’s aunt, told ABC’s Good Morning America.
Authorities have released few details about Patterson, who has no previous criminal record in Wisconsin, saying they were unsure whether he knew Jayme.
Attempts to reach Patterson’s relatives and neighbours on Friday were unsuccessful.
The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, citing neighbours, reported that Patterson was raised in Gordon.
The superintendent of the local school district, Jean Serum, said Patterson was a nice kid who was a member of his high school’s quiz bowl team. He graduated in 2015.
Jayme is not the first kidnapping victim to survive months in captivity.
Elizabeth Smart, who was held captive for nine months as a teenager after her 2002 abduction, posted a photo of Jayme on Instagram, praising the “miracle” that she had been found.
“No matter what may unfold in her story let’s all try to remember that this young woman has SURVIVED and whatever other details may surface the most important will still remain that she is alive,” Ms Smart wrote.
Additional reporting by agencies