By Pam Louwagie, John Reinan and Paul Walsh
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 teen from the family’s home near Barron nearly three months ago.
Jayme was located in Douglas County, Wis., north of her home, late Thursday afternoon, and suspect Jake T. Patterson was pulled over in a car nearby and arrested without resistance thanks to information the girl provided, said Douglas County Sheriff Tom Dalbec during a news conference in Barron.
Jayme was found bedraggled and malnourished Thursday afternoon after escaping and seeking help from neighbors in a remote area about an hour’s drive north of the Closs home just outside of Barron.
“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.”
Barron County Sheriff Chris 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 was expected to be filed next week, the District Attorney’s Office said at the Friday news briefing.
District Attorney Brian Wright said he does not believe Patterson had any prior contact with the Closs family.
“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.
“Thank you, Jayme, for having the will to survive,” Fitzgerald said at the news gathering outside his office. He said Jayme has been cleared from the hospital and is in the midst of a reunification process that includes mental evaluations, questioning by the FBI and detectives, and reunion with family. They hope to have her back in Barron County by Friday morning or afternoon.
He said authorities believe Jayme was always Patterson’s target. Patterson has no criminal history in Wisconsin, and the Gordon area, where Jayme was found, “was not on our radar.” Patterson does have ties to Barron, Fitzgerald said.
Nearly three-month mystery
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.
Rachel Svendsen, a baker’s assistant at the Barron Bakery, said Friday morning, “Everybody is coming in with a smile on their face this morning. They are overjoyed that she is coming back. Our heartstrings have been pulled by this.”
According to the Douglas County sheriff, Jayme was found east of the town of Gordon at 4:43 p.m., and a suspect was arrested minutes later. She was examined at a hospital late Thursday in the Duluth-Superior area ahead of being reunited with family members.
Residents of an area of woods and cabins described the dramatic moment when Jayme was found. Kristin Kasinskas, who lives on S. Eau Claire Acres Circle with her husband, Peter, and children, said that around 4 p.m., a neighbor walking a dog frantically knocked on their door. Standing with her was a skinny, dirty girl with matted hair, wearing shoes too big for her feet.
“This is Jayme Closs! Call 911!” the neighbor said.
Jayme was quiet, her emotions “pretty flat,” Peter Kasinskas said.
The woman who found Jayme, asking not to be identified, said in a phone interview late Thursday that Jayme “came up to me and said she wanted help.”
In the 20 minutes Jayme was in the Kasinskas home, the couple offered her water and food. She declined both but did say she didn’t know where she was or anything about Gordon. From what she told them, they believe she was there for most of her disappearance.
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 all over Barron were upbeat, too.
“It’s a miracle,” said resident Ron Wheeler as he ate an egg-and-ham breakfast at the counter of Seasons Café. “Everybody thought she would never come back.”
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