The Wisconsin teen who went missing in October after her parents were murdered in their home was found alive Thursday by a woman walking her dog in a wooded area.
Jayme Closs, 13, was rescued in Eau Claire Acres, a subdivision dotted with cabins on the outskirts of Gordon, Wisconsin. An unnamed suspect was in custody, the Barron County Sheriff's Department said.
The break in the disturbing case came in the late afternoon as social worker Jeanne Nutter was walking her dog near the cabin she owns with her husband Forrest, a retired police officer.
“The girl just came out of the woods,” Forrest told The Daily Beast.
“She [Jeanne] kept her composure and took the girl to a safe place and called the sheriff’s department,” he added. “She called and said they found Jayme and she was going to the hospital.”
He said his wife had worked in child protective services in the past and knew how to react in the moment. But still, he said, “it was really very stressful for her and she is not up to talking about it.”
The news that Jayme was alive after three months overjoyed her family.
“It's what we’ve prayed for every single day,” Jayme's aunt, Kelly Engelhardt, told Minneapolis TV station KARE.
“I honestly had faith,” she added. "I figured if they hadn’t found her by now that the person that did this didn’t want her dead, so I had hope. Every day there was hope. We had too much love and support around us for us to give up.”
The announcement by police contained few details about who abducted Closs, where she was held and why.
Forrest Nutter said the suspect is one of only a few people who live in Eau Claire Acres year-round. The area is sparsely populated in the winter, with heavy woods between the houses, which could make it easy for someone to hide away without being noticed.
Another resident of the development told The Daily Beast that the family who owns the cabin where Jayme was apparently kept was known to have run-ins with police. “There’s people in and out of that house,” he said.
“We can't believe it—it's like ‘holy crap!’” the neighbor said, adding that the tiny community was the unlikeliest of places for a major crime story to unfold.
“Gordon is 600 people living in the most remote country in Wisconsin and this is a little suburb 10 miles outside of that, a 46-home community where everyone is good neighbors,” he said.
He said he had never seen Jayme in the neighborhood and just hoped that police would find every person who might be involved in her apparent kidnapping and the murder of her parents.
Kathryn Swanson, who’s lived on the block for 10 years, told The Daily Beast that two state patrol cars were blocking the two roads leading into the development late on Thursday.
“I’m just shaken. It’s such a nice little neighborhood. I can’t believe it,” Swanson said.“In fact, my sister called me and told me they found [Jayme] in Gordon. Jokingly I said, ‘Maybe they found her in Eau Claire Acres.’ Then, my God, a news reporter called me.”
News that Jayme was found broke just three hours after Barron County Sheriff Chris Fitzgerald had dismissed online speculation that Jayme had been located in Southeastern Wisconsin, where police swarmed a farming area that police insisted was not related.
“Jayme Closs has NOT been located-this is false news,” Fitzgerald wrote at the time. “There is a heavy law enforcement presence near Walworth Co but it is not related to Jayme Closs.” It was not clear if police denied a link because of the ongoing investigation or if the activity there was pure coincidence.
Until Thursday, authorities had few updates on the mysterious disappearance of Jayme Closs and the fatal shooting of her parents, James and Denise.
The couple was discovered slain in their Barron home around 1 a.m. on Oct. 15. Police believed Jayme was home when her parents were murdered. The middle-schooler was James and Denise’s only child.
Just before 1 a.m., Denise’s cellphone dialed 911 but the dispatcher wasn’t able to speak to anyone at the scene. Police said the operator “could hear a lot of yelling” and that the call pinged to the Closs family residence.
When cops arrived minutes later, they found the house’s door “kicked in” and the bodies of Jayme’s parents. They also found the family’s dog, who was adopted by a relative.
As part of the probe, the sheriff’s department released images of two vehicles of interest, pored over more than 2,000 tips and recruited volunteers to search the area.
During the three-month investigation, authorities did not release the names of any suspects in the murders and possible abduction.
Jayme’s uncle, Jeff Closs, said police had not shared many details with the overjoyed family.
“We thought it was going to be a different ending and we’re so happy that you know, hopefully she’s OK, we don’t really know what shape she’s in,” he told KARE. “We don't really know a lot, all we know is just she’s alive.”
Fitzgerald, in a Facebook post that was shared around 9 p.m., thanked all the law enforcement who had searched for Jayme.
“We also could not have endured this case without the support of the public and I want to thank them for all the support and help,” Fitzgerald added. “Finally 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. From the bottom of my heart THANK YOU!”
Fitzgerald said he’ll hold a press conference at 10 a.m. on Friday.
- with additional reporting by Julia Arciga