'Jayme is the hero' sheriff says of Wisconsin girl who escaped captor

(Reuters) - A 13-year-old girl's escape from a rural home, where she was held captive for three months by a 21-year-old Wisconsin man charged with murdering her parents, helped break the case and she should be treated as a hero, the local sheriff said on Friday.

Thousands of volunteers and hundreds of law enforcement officers had searched around the clock around the small town of Barron after Jayme Closs' parents were found shot dead in their home, the front door open and the girl gone.

Relying on what Barron County Sheriff Chris Fitzgerald called "the will of a kid to survive," a disheveled Closs escaped a house in the tiny town of Gordon where she had been held captive, about 60 miles north of Barron. She was found by a woman walking her dog on Thursday afternoon.

"Jayme is the hero in this case. She's the one who helped us break this case," Fitzgerald told reporters on Friday.

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Jayme Closs kidnapping case
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Jayme Closs kidnapping case
Jayme Closs (Photo: FBI Milwaukee)
This photo provided by the Barron County Sheriff's Department in Barron, Wis., shows Jake Thomas Patterson, of the Town of Gordon, Wis., who has been jailed on kidnapping and homicide charges in the October killing of a Wisconsin couple and abduction of their teen daughter, Jayme Closs. Closs was found alive Thursday, Jan. 10, 2019, in the Town of Gordon. (Barron County Sheriff's Department via AP)
A sign is seen in the small town of Barron, Wis., Tuesday, Oct. 23, 2018, where 13-year-old Jayme Closs was discovered missing Oct. 15 after her parents were found fatally shot at their home. A search was being organized to find the couple's missing daughter. (AP Photo/Jeff Baenen)
A U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) missing person poster shows Jayme Closs, a 13-year-old Wisconsin girl, missing since her parents were discovered fatally shot three months ago, has been located in Gordon, Wisconsin, U.S. as seen in this poster provided January 11, 2019. FBI/Handout via Reuters ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS IMAGE WAS PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY.
Volunteers search a field along 15th Ave. near highway 25 just north of Barron, Wis., Tuesday, Oct. 23, 2018, for 13-year-old Jayme Closs, who was discovered missing Oct. 15 after her parents were found fatally shot at their home. (Jerry Holt/Star Tribune via AP)
Barron County Sheriff Chris Fitzgerald holds up the booking photo of Jake Thomas Patterson, who allegedly kidnapped Jayme Closs, during a news conference, Friday, Jan. 11, 2018, in Barron, Wis. Closs, a 13-year-old northwestern Wisconsin girl who went missing in October after her parents were killed, was found alive in the rural town of Gordon, Wis., about about 60 miles north of her home in Barron. Investigators believe Patterson, who was taken into custody shortly after Closs was found, killed her parents because he wanted to abduct her. (Jean Pieri/Pioneer Press via AP)
Greg Niemuth, of Eau Claire, Wis., searches a wooded area along 15th Av. near Highway 25, north of town for missing 13-year-old Jayme Closs in Barron, Wis., Tuesday Oct. 23, 2018. Hundreds of volunteers in rows walked through swamps, cornfields and woods on Tuesday in search of clues that might lead investigators to the Wisconsin girl whose parents were killed and who is believed to have been abducted. (Jerry Holt/Star Tribune via AP)
Jayme Closs (Photo: FBI Milwaukee)
Louie Lauderdale, of Lake Geneva, Wis. searches near a cornfield along 15th Ave. near highway 25 just North of Barron, Wis., Tuesday, Oct. 23, 2018, for 13-year-old Jayme Closs, who was discovered missing Oct. 15 after her parents were found fatally shot at their home. (Jerry Holt/Star Tribune via AP)
Barron County Sheriff Chris Fitzgerald speaks during a news conference, Friday, Jan. 11, 2018, in Barron, Wis., regarding the arrest of Jake Thomas Patterson, who allegedly kidnapped Jayme Closs, Closs, a 13-year-old northwestern Wisconsin girl who went missing in October after her parents were killed, was found alive in the rural town of Gordon, Wis., about about 60 miles north of her home in Barron. Investigators believe Patterson, who was taken into custody shortly after Closs was found, killed her parents because he wanted to abduct her. (Aaron Lavinsky/Star Tribune via AP)
A Barron County, Wis., sheriff's vehicle sits Tuesday, Oct. 23, 2018, outside the home where James Closs and Denise Closs were found fatally shot on Oct. 15. A search was being organized to find the couple's missing 13-year-old daughter, Jayme. (AP Photo/Jeff Baenen)
Hundreds of volunteers gather Tuesday, Oct. 23, 2018, in Barron, Wis., to assist in the search for Jayme Closs, a missing teenage Wisconsin girl, whose parents were killed in the family's home. Jayme has been missing since Oct. 15, when deputies responding to a 911 call found that someone had broken into the family's home in Barron and gunned down James and Denise Closs. (Jerry Holt /Star Tribune via AP)
Volunteers cross a creek and barbed wire near Barron, Wis., Tuesday, Oct. 23, 2018, on their way to a ground search for 13-year-old Jayme Closs who was discovered missing Oct. 15 after her parents were found fatally shot at their home. The search for Closs was expanded Tuesday, with as many as 2,000 volunteers expected to take part in a search of the area. (AP Photo/Jeff Baenen)
Jayme Closs (Photo: FBI Milwaukee)
Volunteers line up along Highway 25 just north of Barron, Wis., Oct. 23, 2018, to assist in the search for Jayme Closs, a missing teenage Wisconsin girl, whose parents were killed in the family's home. Jayme has been missing since Oct. 15, when deputies responding to a 911 call found that someone had broken into the family's home in Barron and gunned down James and Denise Closs. (Jerry Holt /Star Tribune via AP)
Volunteers gather at a cornfield along 15th Ave. near highway 25 just North of Barron, Wis., Tuesday, Oct. 23, 2018, as they search for 13-year-old Jayme Closs, who was discovered missing Oct. 15 after her parents were found fatally shot at their home. (Jerry Holt/Star Tribune via AP)
People attend a gathering during a moment of silence for Jayme Closs at the Barron High School Football Stadium, Monday, Oct. 22, 2018. Authorities revealed they're looking for two vehicles in connection with the disappearance of the Wisconsin girl whose parents were gunned down last week, calling on hundreds of volunteers to resume a ground search. State, local and federal investigators have been searching for Closs since early Oct. 15, when deputies discovered someone had broken into the family's rural Barron home and shot her parents to death. (Jerry Holt/Star Tribune via AP)
Jayme Closs (Photo: FBI Milwaukee)
Chris Kroeze, a contestant from the show The Voice, performs during a vigil for Jayme Closs at the Barron High School Football Stadium in Barron, Wis., Monday, Oct. 22, 2018. Authorities revealed they're looking for two vehicles in connection with the disappearance of the Wisconsin girl whose parents were gunned down last week, calling on hundreds of volunteers to resume a ground search. State, local and federal investigators have been searching for Closs since early Oct. 15, when deputies discovered someone had broken into the family's rural Barron home and shot her parents to death. (Jerry Holt/Star Tribune via AP)
Steven Fowler of luck Wis., and his dog Cheeka search a cornfield along 15th Ave. near highway 25 just North of Barron, Wis., Tuesday, Oct. 23, 2018, for 13-year-old Jayme Closs, who was discovered missing Oct. 15 after her parents were found fatally shot at their home. (Jerry Holt/Star Tribune via AP)
A group of volunteers searched the ditches along highway 8 Thursday, Oct. 18, 2018, in Barron, Wis., near the home where 13-year-old Jayme Closs lived with her parents James, and Denise. (Jerry Holt /Star Tribune via AP)
Jayme Closs (Photo: FBI Milwaukee)
People attend a gathering during a moment of silence for Jayme Closs at the Barron High School Football Stadium in Barron, Wis., Monday, Oct. 22, 2018. Authorities revealed they're looking for two vehicles in connection with the disappearance of the Wisconsin girl whose parents were gunned down last week, calling on hundreds of volunteers to resume a ground search. State, local and federal investigators have been searching for Closs since early Oct. 15, when deputies discovered someone had broken into the family's rural Barron home and shot her parents to death. (Jerry Holt/Star Tribune via AP)
Wisconsin DNR warden supervisor Russell T Fell selected 100 volunteers to searched the ditches along highway 8 Thursday, Oct. 18, 2018, in Barron, Wis., near the home where 13-year-old Jayme Closs lived with her parents James, and Denise. (Jerry Holt /Star Tribune via AP)
Wisconsin DNR warden Supervisor Russell T Fell selected 100 volunteers to searched the ditches along highway 8, Thursday, Oct. 18, 2018, in Barron, Wis., near the home where 13-year-old Jayme Closs lived with her parents James, and Denise. (Jerry Holt /Star Tribune via AP)
Joan Smrekar talked about the night that she heard two gunshots at the home were where 13-year-old Jayme Closs parents James, and Denise was killed Thursday, Oct. 18, 2018, in Barron, Wis. (Jerry Holt /Star Tribune via AP)
Barron County Sheriff Chris Fitzgerald speaks during a news conference, Friday, Jan. 11, 2018, in Barron, Wis., regarding the arrest of Jake Thomas Patterson, who allegedly kidnapped Jayme Closs, Closs, a 13-year-old northwestern Wisconsin girl who went missing in October after her parents were killed, was found alive in the rural town of Gordon, Wis., about about 60 miles north of her home in Barron. Investigators believe Patterson, who was taken into custody shortly after Closs was found, killed her parents because he wanted to abduct her. (Aaron Lavinsky/Star Tribune via AP)
Barron County Sheriff Chris Fitzgerald holds up the booking photo of Jake Thomas Patterson, who allegedly kidnapped Jayme Closs, during a news conference, Friday, Jan. 11, 2018, in Barron, Wis. Closs, a 13-year-old northwestern Wisconsin girl who went missing in October after her parents were killed, was found alive in the rural town of Gordon, Wis., about about 60 miles north of her home in Barron. Investigators believe Patterson, who was taken into custody shortly after Closs was found, killed her parents because he wanted to abduct her. (Aaron Lavinsky/Star Tribune via AP)
Community members listened as representatives from various Wisconsin law enforcement agencies speak during a news conference, Friday, Jan. 11, 2018, in Barron, Wis., regarding the arrest of Jake Thomas Patterson, who allegedly kidnapped Jayme Closs. Closs, a 13-year-old northwestern Wisconsin girl who went missing in October after her parents were killed, was found alive in the rural town of Gordon, Wis., about about 60 miles north of her home in Barron. Investigators believe Patterson, who was taken into custody shortly after Closs was found, killed her parents because he wanted to abduct her. (Aaron Lavinsky/Star Tribune via AP)
Kristin Kasinskas, who lives on S. Eau Claire Acres Circle with her husband, Peter, speak with the media Friday, Jan. 11, 2019, in Gordon, Wis. Kristin Kasinskas called 911 on Thursday, to report that Jayme Closs, 13, had been found after another neighbor out walking her dog encountered her and brought her to Kasinskas' house. Closs went missing in October after her parents were killed. (Richard Tsong-Taatarii/Star Tribune via AP)
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Both the woman and the neighbor recognized the teen immediately on Thursday due to the enormous public campaign following her disappearance, Fitzgerald said.

Less than 15 minutes later, Jake Patterson, 21, was in custody after police pulled over his vehicle, based on Closs' description.

"The suspect was out looking for her when law enforcement made contact with him," Fitzgerald told a news conference, adding police were not seeking any other suspects in the case at this time.

TARGETED JAYME

Patterson, an unemployed resident of Gordon, was charged on Friday with kidnapping and with murdering James and Denise Closs with a shotgun. Their bodies were discovered on Oct. 15.

"The suspect had specific intentions to kidnap Jayme and went to great lengths to prepare to take her," said Fitzgerald.

Patterson was being held in the Barron County jail, and it was not yet clear whether he had a lawyer. He faces an initial court hearing on Monday.

More than 200 law enforcement officials were on the ground day and night following Closs' disappearance, sifting through thousands of tips but finding little to go on.

(Jake Patterson via Reuters)

The search stretched across cornfields and wooded areas and drew 1,500 volunteers -- nearly half as many people as the entire 3,400-person population of Barron, which sits about 90 miles (145 km) northeast of Minneapolis.

Hundreds of locals had attended a Christmas tree-lighting ceremony at Riverview Middle School, which Closs attended, in her honour last month. The "tree of hope" was decorated with messages and lighted in blue, Closs' favourite colour, and green to symbolize missing child awareness, the Star Tribune reported.

Closs was speaking to investigators on Friday after spending a night in the hospital for evaluation. Authorities did not offer any details about the conditions of her captivity or how she had managed to escape.

She was due to be reunited with her extended family later on Friday.

"I just cried ... lots of happy tears," Jen Smith, the girl's aunt, told ABC's "Good Morning America" programme.

FEW DETAILS

Authorities have released few details about Patterson, who has no previous criminal record in Wisconsin, saying they were unsure whether he had known Closs.

Attempts to reach Patterson's relatives and neighbours on Friday were unsuccessful.

The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, citing neighbours, reported that Patterson had been raised in Gordon. Police said Patterson had ties to Barron but did not elaborate.

The president of the Jennie-O Turkey store in Barron, where James and Denise Closs had worked for decades, said Patterson had been an employee for a single day three years ago. He quit the next day, saying he was moving, Steve Lykken said.

"We are still mourning the loss of longtime Jennie-O family members Jim and Denise, but our entire team is celebrating with the community, and the world, that Jayme has been found," Lykken said.

The superintendent of the local school district, Jean Serum, said Patterson was a nice kid who was a member of his high school's quiz bowl team. He graduated in 2015.

About 350 people under the age of 21 are kidnapped by strangers in the United States each year, according to FBI data.

Closs is not the first kidnapping victim to survive months in captivity.

Elizabeth Smart, who was held captive for nine months as a teenager after her 2002 abduction in Utah, posted a photo of Closs on Instagram, praising the "miracle" that she had been found.

"No matter what may unfold in her story let's all try to remember that this young woman has SURVIVED and whatever other details may surface the most important will still remain that she is alive," Smart wrote.

(Reporting by Joseph Ax and Gabriella Borter in New York; Additional reporting by Rich McKay in Atlanta and Andrew Hay in New Mexico; Editing by Bill Tarrant and Sandra Maler)

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