MADISON, Wis. (AP) — A 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, the neighbors said.
“I honestly still think I’m dreaming right now. It was like I was seeing a ghost,” Peter Kasinskas told the Minneapolis Star Tribune. “My jaw just went to the floor.”
Authorities said a suspect was in custody, but otherwise didn’t give any additional details ahead of a planned Friday news conference in Barron, in northwestern Wisconsin.
Jayme went missing on Oct. 15 after police discovered someone had broken into the family’s home outside Barron and fatally shot her parents, James and Denise Closs. Jayme was nowhere to be found, with the Barron County Sheriff’s Department describing her as likely abducted.
Detectives pursued thousands of tips, watched dozens of surveillance videos and conducted numerous searches in the effort to find Jayme. Some tips led officials to recruit 2,000 volunteers for a massive ground search on Oct. 23 but it yielded no clues.
Barron County Sheriff Chris 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 taken from her Salt Lake City home in 2002, when she was 14 years old. She was rescued nine months later with the help of two witnesses who recognized her abductors from an “America’s Most Wanted” episode.
“I have a gut feeling she’s (Jayme’s) still alive,” Fitzgerald said at the time.
He was right.
The Star Tribune reported Town of Gordon resident Kristin Kasinskas heard a knock on her door Thursday afternoon. It was her neighbor, who had been out walking her dog, with Jayme alongside.
In the 20 minutes Jayme was in their home, Kasinskas and her husband, Peter, tried to make her feel more comfortable, they said. They offered her water and food, but she declined both. 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. From what she told them, they believe she was there for most of her disappearance.
Gordon lies about 40 miles south of Lake Superior and about 65 miles north of Barron, Jayme’s hometown. The town is home to about 645 people in a heavily forested region where logging is the top industry.
The Douglas County Sheriff’s Office confirmed on its website that Jayme was found in the town at 4:43 p.m. Thursday, and that a suspect was taken into custody 11 minutes later. The Associated Press couldn’t confirm the Kasinskases’ account; the sheriff’s office’s non-emergency line rang unanswered Thursday night and Sheriff Thomas Dalbec didn’t respond to an email.
Sue Allard, Jayme’s aunt, told the Star Tribune 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.”
Barron Mayor Ron Fladten said Thursday night he was overjoyed at learning she is alive.
“There was a lot of discouragement because this took quite a while to play out,” Fladten said. “A lot of people have been praying daily, as I have. It’s just a great result we got tonight. It’s unbelievable. It’s like taking a big black cloud in the sky and getting rid of it and the sun comes out again.”
He acknowledged that Jayme may not be the same person she was before she disappeared.
“I hope that she’s in good shape,” the mayor 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.”
The notification that Jayme had been found came just four hours after Fitzgerald had taken to Twitter to debunk a report that she had been found alive near Walworth County. Douglas County, where Jayme was found, is hundreds of miles northwest of Walworth County.