A 21-year-old man has been charged with murdering the parents of an American teen as part of a calculated plot to kidnap her, police said Friday, after 13-year-old Jayme Closs was found alive following three months in captivity.
The subject of a nationwide search since her parents were found murdered in their home in rural Wisconsin in October, Closs made a seemingly miraculous escape Thursday afternoon, seeking help from a neighbor who alerted authorities.
Minutes later, police arrested the man she identified as her captor, Jake Thomas Patterson, and have charged him with abducting Closs and fatally shooting her parents.
“Jayme was taken against her will and escaped from the residence in which she was being held and found help,” Barron County Sheriff Chris Fitzgerald told reporters.
The teen was said to be in good health and was to be reunited with her extended family late Friday. She was cleared to leave the hospital and has been talking to investigators.
“She is doing as well as circumstances will allow,” Fitzgerald said.
Patterson, who had no previous criminal record in Wisconsin, is accused of carefully planning his attack — specifically targeting the young teen for reasons that remained unclear.
He was to appear in court Monday.
Crying teen sought neighbor’s help
Closs was being held in a rural home approximately 75 miles (120 kilometers) north of her home in Barron, Wisconsin.
She escaped and ran to a vacation cabin where Jeanne Nutter was just returning from walking her dog at around 4:30 pm Thursday.
“She said she was lost, she didn’t know where she was,” Nutter told AFP.
“I didn’t know the situation until she got near me, and then she told me her name, and I knew who she was because I’d seen her picture everywhere.”
The 66-year-old took the teen to a neighbor’s home, where they called police.
Nutter said Closs appeared traumatized but in good physical condition, wearing an oversized sweatshirt and large shoes that were clearly not her own.
“She was crying when I first met her, but once I grabbed hold of her and held her as she walked, then she was calm,” she said.
Trail had gone cold
Detectives have not yet established what had happened to the teen over the last three months, the motive for the kidnapping, or how she escaped.
Patterson was the authorities’ only suspect, described as unemployed and a long-time resident of rural Gordon.
He was arrested Thursday without resistance while driving in his car. Police believe he had been searching for Jayme.
The sheriff said they found a number of weapons at his home, including a shotgun that resembled the one used to shoot open the Closs’s front door in the middle of the night on October 15 and kill Jayme’s parents James Closs, 56, and Denise Closs, 46.
A nationwide search for Jayme had left law enforcement frustrated with few clues and a trail that had gone cold.
“The suspect had specific intentions to kidnap Jayme and went to great lengths to prepare to take her,” the sheriff said, such as shaving his head to avoid leaving traces of identifying evidence behind.
There were no immediate links that explained how or why Patterson allegedly targeted Jayme Closs.
While the young man worked at the same meat processing plant as Jayme’s parents nearly three years ago, he did so for only one day and police said there is no evidence that there was any contact between them.
“At this time, nothing in this case shows the suspect knew anyone at the Closs home or at any time had contact with anyone in the Closs family,” Fitzgerald said.
’88 days of prayers’
Closs’s extended family and community in Barron were jubilant at her recovery.
Police said they sent three teams to tell family members at various locations that she had been found, including one group that was attending a basketball game.
“When we said she was found safe and alive, (there were) tears and lots of hugs,” Fitzgerald said.
Speaking to Fox News, Jayme’s aunt Kelly Engelhardt said, “We are beyond words. My family cannot express how happy we are.”
Asked if there would be a community celebration in her honor, the superintendent of the Barron Area School District that Jayme attended, said, “You better believe it.”
“There is so much love and hugs in our district today,” Diane Tremblay said.
“It has been 88 days of hope for her safe return, 88 days of prayers.”