When Peter Kasinskas answered the pounding at his front door on Thursday, the first words he heard were, “This is Jayme Closs” and “Call 911.” It was his neighbor, Jeanne Nutter, and the missing girl who’d vanished without a trace almost three months ago.
“It was literally like we were seeing a ghost, because we have seen the billboards and the commercials and all that stuff, and there she is in my kitchen, you know,” Kasinskas told CBS News.
The Barron County sheriff’s office said Closs was found Thursday afternoon in Gordon, a northwest Wisconsin town about 65 miles north of where she went missing from her home in Barron. Jayme had not been seen since her parents were murdered there on October 15.
Jeanne Nutter said she was walking her dog Thursday afternoon when a disheveled teenage girl called out to her for help, quickly grabbed her and told her she was lost. Only then did the girl reveal her name.
Nutter said Friday that Jayme told her she had walked away from a nearby cabin where she’d been held captive, not far from the home of Nutter and the Kasinskas family.
“I was terrified, but I didn’t want to show her that,” Nutter, a social worker who spent years working in child protection, told The Associated Press on Friday. “She just yelled ‘Please help me, I don’t know where I am. I’m lost.'”
Nutter said she didn’t want to bring Jayme to her nearby home because it was too close to where she’d been found, and she didn’t want them to be alone. She said: “My only thought was to get her to a safe place.”
The two went elsewhere in the neighborhood, to the home of Peter and Kristin Kasinskas, who immediately recognized her.
According to Peter Kasinskas, Jayme appeared thin and ragged, wearing what looked like leggings, a sweatshirt and oversized men’s tennis shoes.
“Tired, skinny, dirty — probably hadn’t bathed in quite a while, if at all,” Peter Kasinskas told reporters Friday. “She didn’t have any emotion — she was probably in shock.”
Kristin Kasinskas called 911, and relayed to the dispatcher from Jayme the name of the alleged captor — 21-year-old Jake Thomas Patterson — and the color of his car. Patterson was pulled over in the car nearby a short time later and taken into custody without incident.
Kristin Kasinskas said Jayme knew her captor’s name, but the girl said she didn’t know Patterson before he abducted her.
“She said no, I did not know him before he came to the house,” Kasinskas said, recounting Jayme’s words. “She said, ‘He killed my parents and took me.'”
Details of what happened in the nearly three months since the girl vanished remain unclear, but Barron County Sheriff Chris Fitzgerald said Patterson “took many proactive steps to hide his identity from law enforcement and the general public.”
“He concealed his identity and concealed her from other people also,” Fitzgerald said.
Kasinskas said Jayme told the couple Patterson would sometimes have people over to the cabin during the time she was being held, but would hide her from them.
Fitzgerald also said Jayme was Patterson’s apparent target and that he killed her parents in order to abduct the girl.
Kristin Kasinskas said Jayme didn’t know where she was after her escape and had never heard of the town of Gordon, home to about 644 people in a heavily forested region where logging in the top industry.
She described Jayme as calm, quiet, and very sweet. She said the girl smiled when the couple talked to her and said hello to their children.
Peter Kasinskas said the couple didn’t ask Jayme too many questions, afraid to re-traumatize her. The couple offered her food and water, but she declined both. Jayme sat under a blanket on the couch as they waited for police to arrive, he said.
“I told Jayme, ‘I am so happy to see you,’ that was all I could think to say to her,” Peter Kasinskas said. “She just said thank you.”
Patterson lived just four doors down from the Kasinskas family, but Kristin Kasinskas said she didn’t realize it until he was identified as the suspect. She said she never saw Patterson on her street or in town, and doesn’t remember seeing him since he was in high school.
Kasinskas said she taught Patterson science in middle school, but added: “I don’t really remember a ton about him.” She described him as nice, quiet, and smart, but said she hadn’t seen him since he was about 11 or 12.
She said her reaction was “just disbelief — kind of shock that a kid we all knew could have done this.”
Sheriff Fitzgerald said Patterson is currently unemployed and does have a “tie” to Barron County, where the teen was abducted, but didn’t describe the connection. He said a search warrant is currently being served on the Gordon home and authorities are also investigating several cars that belong to Patterson, who he said has “zero” criminal history.
Patterson is being held on two counts of first degree intentional homicide for the murder of Jayme’s parents and one count of kidnapping. He is expected to make an initial court appearance sometime next week, after the Barron County District Attorney files a criminal complaint.
Jayme’s grandfather, Robert Naiberg, told the AP on Friday that he’d been praying for months for the call he received Thursday about his granddaughter being found alive.
Naiberg said his daughter called him with the news, saying Jayme reported having been held by “a guy in the woods” but was able to escape.
Sue Allard, Jayme’s aunt, told the Star Tribune newspaper 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.”