BARRON COUNTY, Wis. —
A 21-year-old man shot a Wisconsin couple to death at their home in a scheme to kidnap their teenage daughter, then held the girl captive for three months in an isolated north woods town before she managed to escape, authorities said Friday.
Jayme Closs, 13, was skinny, disheveled and wearing shoes too big for her when she approached a stranger and pleaded for help Thursday in the small town of Gordon, where Jake Thomas Patterson lives. Patterson was quickly arrested and jailed on kidnapping and homicide charges.
The news that Jayme was safe set off joy and relief 60 miles (96 kilometers) away in her hometown of Barron, population 3,300, ending an all-out search that gripped the state, with many people fearing the worst the longer she was missing.
WATCH: Wis. sheriff ID’s suspect in Jayme Closs kidnapping
“My legs started to shake. It was awesome. The stress, the relief – it was awesome,” Barron County Sheriff Chris Fitzgerald said, describing the moment when he learned Jayme had been found.
Jayme told one of the neighbors in Gordon who took her in that she had walked away from a cabin where she had been held captive.
“She said that this person’s name was Jake Patterson, ‘he killed my parents and took me,'” said another one of the neighbors, Kristin Kasinskas. “She did not talk about why or how. She said she did not know him.”
At a 4 p.m. press conference, Fitzgerald said investigators recovered a shotgun from Patterson’s house that appeared to match the gun used to kill Jayme’s parents, although he said that match still had to be confirmed by ballistic testing.
Fitzgerald said the front door of the Closs home had not been kicked in the night Jayme was taken, but instead shot open. Fitzgerald also said the attack and abduction appeared to be meticulously planned, and that Patterson took steps to minimize evidence left behind at the scene including doing things like shaving his head so he would not leave hair behind. Investigators said the suspect had specific intentions to kidnap Jayme and had prepared to take her.
Fitzgerald said Patterson was not at home when Jayme escaped his cabin and that police believe he was out looking for her when he was located and arrested. Police said he was driving around in his vehicle at the time of his arrest.
Investigators continued to serve a search warrant and collect evidence from Patterson’s cabin Friday afternoon.
The sheriff gave no immediate details on what happened to Jayme during her captivity, why she was seized or how she escaped. He said that he did not know if she had been physically abused but that she was hospitalized overnight for observation and released after an exam. Investigators were still interviewing her.
The sheriff said investigators do not believe Patterson and the girl knew each other, and Fitzgerald said investigators don’t believe there was a social media connection. Investigators are still working to determine how Patterson became aware of Jayme.
However, Patterson worked for one day in 2016 at the same Jennie-O turkey plant in Barron as Jayme’s parents, Jennie-O Turkey Store President Steve Lykken said. Patterson quit the next day, saying he was moving from the area, Lykken said.
WATCH: Jayme Closs’ rescuers describe finding her, calling 911
Kasinskas called 911 to report the girl had been found after another neighbor out walking her dog encountered Jayme and brought her to Kasinskas’ house. Minutes later, Patterson was pulled over by a sheriff’s deputy based on a description of his vehicle Jayme provided, authorities said.
He was scheduled for an initial court appearance Monday. It was not immediately known whether the unemployed Patterson had an attorney.
Jayme’s grandfather, Robert Naiberg, said he had been praying for months for the call he received about his granddaughter.
“I thought, ‘Good for her she escaped,'” he said.
Jayme disappeared without from her home near Barron after someone broke in and killed her parents, James and Denise Closs, on Oct. 15. The sheriff said investigators believe Patterson killed them in order to abduct the girl.
Property records show that the cabin in Gordon belonged to Patterson’s father at the time of Jayme’s disappearance.
Patterson had no criminal record, according to the sheriff. He graduated in 2015 from Northwood High School, where he was on the quiz bowl team and was a good student with a “great group of friends,” said District Superintendent Jean Serum.
Kasinskas said she taught Patterson science in middle school, but added: “I don’t really remember a ton about him.”
“He seemed like a quiet kid,” she said. “I don’t recall anything that would have explained this, by any means.”
The woman who first spotted Jayme on Thursday, Jeanne Nutter, said she was walking her dog along a rural road when a disheveled girl called out to her, grabbed her and revealed her name.
“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. “She just yelled, ‘Please help me! I don’t know where I am! I’m lost!'”
Nutter took her to the home of Peter and Kristin Kasinskas. 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 of about 644 people in a heavily forested region where logging in the top industry. From what she told them, they believed she was there for most of her disappearance.
After Jayme vanished, detectives pursued thousands of tips, watched dozens of surveillance videos and conducted numerous searches. Officials recruited 2,000 volunteers for a huge ground search Oct. 23, but it yielded no clues.
Fitzgerald said in November that he 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 from her Salt Lake City home in 2002. Smart was rescued nine months later after witnesses recognized her abductors from an “America’s Most Wanted” episode.
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.
Smart said in a telephone interview that Jayme’s story is “why we can never give up hope on any missing child.”
“It was only a few months ago that we as a community gathered to pray for Jayme’s safe return at Barron High School,” Barron County District Attorney Brian Wright said at a news conference. “God has answered those prayers.”
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.
“When she walked in the door, I thought I was dreaming and seeing a ghost for real,” Peter Kasinskas told KSTP.
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.”
Jennifer Smith, another aunt and the teen’s godmother, told KSTP she had been counting the minutes since Closs disappeared.
WATCH: Closs’ godmother recalls hearing the emotional news that her niece had been found alive
WLS-TV contributed to this report
(Copyright ©2019 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)