Thirteen-year-old Jayme Closs, the Wisconsin girl who disappeared around the same time her parents were murdered last fall, was found alive on Thursday, and a 21-year-old named Jake Thomas Patterson was arrested in connection with the horrifying episode shortly thereafter.
At a press conference led by Barron County Sheriff Chris Fitzgerald Friday morning, a bevy of local, state, and federal law enforcement officials sought to close the door on a double-murder, disappearance, and massive manhunt that produced thousands of tips and generalized terror.
Closs's parents, 56-year-old James Closs and 46-year-old Denise Closs, had both been found shot to death early on the morning of October 15, but their daughter was not on the scene. Authorities initially hesitated to call her's a kidnapping, even as AMBER alerts went out and rewards were offered.
The breakthrough came in what looked at first brush like a combination of sheer grit and, in a vast, bitterly cold Midwestern landscape, a little bit of luck.
According to Fitzgerald, and as previously reported in part by the Daily Beast and the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel, social worker Jeanne Nutter, who was walking her dog in a remote area, happened to stumble upon a girl who "just came out of the woods" in Gordon, Wisconsin Thursday afternoon.
“I went to her and she just sort of grabbed onto me and she told me who she was," Nutter told the paper. The duo rushed to a neighbor's house and called 9-1-1; sheriff's deputies who swarmed the area shortly thereafter identified a vehicle matching a description provided by the teen. After pulling it over, they arrested Patterson, whose home Closs had apparently escaped.
Patterson was being held in the Barron County jail, where he faces two counts of first-degree intentional homicide and one count of kidnapping.
At the press conference, Fitzgerald said the suspect had "zero criminal history in the state of Wisconsin," and that he did not know if Patterson and victim had known each other, and that it did not appear the family had had contact with him in the past. "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," he added.
Authorities credited the press for aggressively covering the case, as it appeared both Nutter and the neighbor whose house she and Closs called the police from recognized her quickly.
"I just know she did escape from the home, and did find help… that is the will of a kid to survive," Fitzgerald told reporters. "It's unthinkable."
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