(Gray News) – When police arrested Jake Thomas Patterson as a suspect in the kidnapping of Jayme Closs on Thursday, they allege he was out searching for her after she escaped from his home.
Barron Co. Sheriff Chris Fitzgerald said during a Friday afternoon news conference that investigators believe Patterson targeted Jayme. Fitzgerald also said there is no initial evidence Patterson had any contact with anyone inside the Closs home before the shooting death of James and Denise Closs.
Even a few years ago, Patterson worked for two days at the Jennie-O turkey processing plant where Denise, 46, and James, 56, Closs worked, but police can’t find any evidence of contact.
A shotgun found in the suspect’s home was sent to the state crime lab to compare it with evidence. In October 2018, the Closs' front door was blown open with a shotgun, and Jayme’s parents were killed with a shotgun.
Fitzgerald said the suspect took measures to evade police while committing the crime, such as shaving his head as not to leave behind any trace evidence.
“I can tell you that the subject planned his actions and took many proactive steps to hide his identity from law enforcement and the general public,” Fitzgerald said.
In a late Friday afternoon news conference, Fitzgerald emphasized that officials will not put undue stress on Jayme and compromise the investigation by releasing information quickly.
“I know all of you are searching for the answer for why this happened, and so are we. We are going to do what’s right for Jayme,” Fitzgerald said.
Patterson is being held in the Barron County Jail, and will appear in court on Monday on charges of two counts of first degree intentional homicide in the murders and another for kidnapping.
The Wisconsin teenager, missing for nearly three months after her parents were killed in the family home, was found alive barely an hour’s drive away, by a woman who stumbled across the 13-year-old girl and pounded on her neighbors' door shouting: “This is Jayme Closs! Call 911!”
Jayme was skinny and dirty, wearing shoes too big for her feet, but appeared outwardly OK when she was discovered Thursday afternoon near the small town of Gordon, about an hour north of where she went missing, neighbors said.
Jeanne Nutter was walking her dog at about 4:30 p.m. Thursday when she said a young girl approached her, wearing a sweatshirt and leggings.
“She said, ‘Please help me. I don’t know where I am. I’m lost,’” Nutter told WPR.
Keeping an eye out for the person who took Jayme, the two headed to Peter Kasinskas' home to call 911.
Sgt. Thomas Dalbec of the Douglas County Sheriff’s Department said his officers responded en masse to the home of the couple who took in Jayme. The 13-year-old was taken to a nearby hospital where she was examined and kept overnight for observation.
Kasinskas described Closs as being quiet and showing little emotion. Police said she would be reunited with her family on Friday.
Jayme was able to give a description of a car and the suspect to police, and a patrol sergeant pulled over the suspect.
Although police did not release details about the house where Patterson held Jayme, Fitzgerald did state that Patterson allegedly concealed her in the home.
“We want to especially thank the family for their support and patience while this case was ongoing. We promised to bring Jayme home and tonight we get to fulfill that promise,” Fitzgerald wrote on Facebook Thursday night.
Closs' grandfather, Robert Naiberg, told KSTP in Minneapolis that the family was overwhelmed.
“Everybody is so happy,” he said. “We can’t believe it.”
Closs disappeared in the early morning of Oct. 15, and her parents were found shot and killed at the family’s home near the town of Barron. A massive search followed, with authorities believing she had been kidnapped at gunpoint.
Authorities received thousands of tips in the following days as the search mushroomed, and leads took investigators as far away as South Florida.
But the trail went cold and the search scaled back at the end of October. A $50,000 reward was offered for information leading to her discovery, and authorities remained resolute.
“The hope is out there. That’s what we run on, hope every day, and we’re gonna bring Jayme home,” Fitzgerald said at the end of October.
As time went on, her family struggled with questions.
“The thoughts that go through our mind every night: 'Where is she? Is she still in the same clothes as she was that night when she was taken? Is she being fed? Is she hurt? What’s happening to her?’ I just sit and think and picture her. Where is she? It’s so hard. So hard,” her aunt, Suzi Allard, said in November.
In mid-December, her grandfather, Robert Naiberg, said at a vigil the family wasn’t giving up hope.
“Jayme, grandpa wants you to know that we will never give up. I want nothing more than to get my granddaughter back home to me and her family where she belongs,” he said.
The Barron County Sheriff’s Department said it was continuing to receive assistance from the FBI and the Wisconsin Division of Criminal Investigation as an investigation remains active.
Barron Mayor Ron Fladten said Thursday night that he was overjoyed to learn Closs was found alive, but acknowledged she might not be the same person she was before she vanished.
“I hope that she’s in good shape,” Fladten said. “She’s no doubt been through just a terrible ordeal. I think everybody wishes her a good recovery and a happy life going into the future.”