MILWAUKEE —January 11, 2019— A woman said she was walking her dog along a rural road when a disheveled teenage girl called out to her for help, quickly grabbed her and told her she was lost. Then the girl revealed her name: Jayme Closs, the 13-year-old Wisconsin girl who vanished three months ago after her parents were fatally shot in the family’s home.
Jeanne Nutter, a social worker who spent years working in child protection, told The Associated Press on Friday that the girl approached her Thursday afternoon in a heavily wooded, rural neighborhood near the small town of Gordon, about 60 miles (96.5 kilometers) south of where Jayme disappeared on Oct. 15.
Jayme told the woman said she had walked away from a cabin where she’d been held captive, a cabin not far from Nutter’s home.
“I was terrified, but I didn’t want to show her that,” Nutter told the AP. “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. Jayme was skinny and dirty, wearing shoes too big for her feet, but appeared outwardly OK, 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 quickly apprehended, though no details have been released. A news conference was planned Friday in Barron, where Jayme’s family lived.
Jayme went missing 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. The Barron County Sheriff’s Department said the girl had likely been 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 14 when she was taken from her Salt Lake City home in 2002. 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.
During the 20 minutes Jayme was in their home, Peter and Kristin Kasinskas said they tried to make her feel more comfortable. 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 believed she was there for most of her disappearance.
Gordon is about 40 miles (64.4 kilometers) south of Lake Superior and about 65 miles (104.6 kilometers) north of Barron, Jayme’s hometown. Gordon 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.
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.”
By GRETCHEN EHLKE ,Associated Press