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Forever altered: Barron 'in recovery' since Jayme Closs' return

BARRON — Growing up in the country 15 minutes outside of Birchwood, 26-year-old Samantha Suriano never locked her doors.

But after James and Denise Closs were shot to death and their 13-year-old daughter Jayme mysteriously disappeared from their rural Barron home on Oct. 15, everything changed.

The day Suriano heard about the deadly shooting, she began locking her doors at all times. She watched the news constantly, hoping for Jayme’s return though she’d never met her or the family. She worried about her infant daughter Aria’s future nearly constantly.

“When I heard about it, my heart dropped immediately,” the Barron resident recalled Saturday, instantly frowning at the memory. “I was always looking around me and I was just on edge. It was almost like when you walked around Barron you’d be thinking of the different places she would be if she were here and safe. And I remember just thinking it was really crazy that something like this would happen in our town.”

Although it’s been just over a month since Jayme miraculously escaped from suspect Jake Patterson’s Gordon home, where she’d been held captive for 88 days, the Rev. Ron Matthews of Barron’s First Lutheran Church knew some residents of Barron and other nearby communities are continuing to grieve and move past the case as they move into recovery.

So he organized “Our Resilient Community,” a seminar focused on managing grief and loss held Saturday morning at the Barron Area Community Center.

That recovery has manifested differently in everyone, Matthews said. For some, recovery looked like throwing a large celebration for Jayme. For others, it’s been a bit more difficult to process.

“There’s a strong mix of emotions right now,” Matthews said. “We’re happy and celebrating that she was found, but many members of the community are still grieving. We had two people who tragically lost their lives. We still have students living in fear, a month after she’s been found. Parents are also living in fear around the whole nature of this tragic event that took place.”

The seminar on Saturday featured the Rev. Kal Rissman, a grief and addiction expert of Alexandria, Ind. Although Jayme has, thankfully, returned to Barron, Rissman said the community is certainly continuing to face loss and grief.

“Not only did they lose a couple of people who were murdered, but we also have a young girl who is traumatized,” Rissman said. “Barron, Wisconsin will be forever altered because they lost a sense of safety.’”

Rissman said there’s an added level of grief and loss for those who believed a crime like this could never be committed in a community as small as Barron, which has a population of about 3,000.

“In a sense, this is kind of like a microcosm of what Americans faced on 9/11; that sense of ‘How could this happen in our country?’” Rissman said. “And here, this happened in our town. These are all things that are always going to be part of Barron. That’s a huge loss.”

Barron County Sheriff Chris Fitzgerald said that, despite it all, Barron is doing well. Fitzgerald said he hopes the event will inspire folks to continue to use the energy and support put toward finding Jayme be directed to continued community betterment.

“This community can do anything — we have shown the world what this community can do,” Fitzgerald said. “We’re going to take all that good and support the community is showing and put it toward other things like fighting drugs, poverty, homelessness or whatever. We’re going to harness that energy and do some great things with it.”

‘Happen anywhere’

Suriano, who wasn’t able to attend the seminar on Saturday, said it seems Barron is starting to return to normal. But that doesn’t mean all has been forgotten — her fears for her now 9-month-old daughter haven’t yet ceased. And they likely will never.

“It’s always kind of in the back of your head,” she said.

Tammy Edming of Rice Lake agreed that though it was amazing to hear Jayme was alive and in good health, Barron and the surrounding communities seem changed — more cautious.

“To see that scroll along the bottom of the TV, you could almost hear household cheering. I’m not kidding,” Edming said Saturday. “But at the same time, it was like everyone realized this is not just a big city crime. ... It can happen anywhere and it can happen to any of us.”

Edming said she’s noticed more parents making the effort to take their children to the bus stop. According to criminal complaints, Patterson told police he decided to abduct Jayme after seeing her get on the bus one day.

But Edming? She’s determined not to change her lifestyle or become crippled with fear.

“I’m going to live my life and I would hope other people will do the same because otherwise we’re letting those people win,” she said. “They win if we lock ourselves inside and say ‘I’m too scared to do anything’ and we don’t go out into the community.”

Overall, Edming said she — and everyone else who lives in or near Barron — continue to look for ways to help Jayme without overwhelming her.

On Wednesday, Jayme and her family issued a statement expressing their “deepest gratitude for the incredible gifts and generous donations” from across the country and around the world.

“Jayme greatly appreciates each and every gift, as well as the many cards and letters,” the statement said. “The many kind words have been a source of great comfort to her.”

Bruce Richter of Cameron, who attended church with the Closs family and knows Jayme’s guardians, agreed he continues to focus on the teen — particularly on his commute to and from work. Although she’s doing well, he’s heard she “still has a long ways to go.”

“Every morning when I drive to work I drive by her place and I say a prayer for her,” he said. “Morning and night.”

Staff file photo by Dan Reiland  

Barron County Sheriff Chris Fitzgerald held up a photo of the suspect in the kidnapping of Jayme Closs, identified as 21-year-old Jake Thomas Patterson of Gordon, during a press conference on Jan. 11. A little over a month since Jayme’s escape, the Barron community continues to heal.

Staff photo by Dan Reiland  

A bundled-up Roger Tubbs clears snow from sidewalks last week near Grace Barstow Apartments in Eau Claire. A similar operation didn’t go nearly as smoothly for Leader-Telegram special projects reporter Eric Lindquist.

Offbeat: Consuming headlines encouraged — but not with snowblower

As anybody who has braved the elements or even looked out a window lately realizes, the Chippewa Valley has been buried in snow over the past two weeks.

We got so much snow, in fact, that the 28.4 inches that fell on Eau Claire in the first 12 days of February set a snowfall record for the city — for the entire month of February dating back to when records began in 1893, according to the National Weather Service.

While that may no longer be “stop the presses” news now that residents and local government crews have spent countless hours shoveling, blowing and plowing it out of the way so they can get on with their lives, I can’t resist sharing how the press literally stopped this newsman from clearing my driveway. Misery loves company, right?

My misadventure began with our latest major snowstorm — the one that dumped a blanket of white 10 inches deep over my 60-yard-long driveway on Tuesday and prompted my editor to call early that morning and suggest I work from home to avoid getting stuck on the way to the office, as happened to our first reporter who attempted the trek.

I spent the day calling all over the region to learn about the impacts of the storm and then writing about it. I didn’t even take time to trudge through the snow to collect my morning Leader-Telegram (Lesson No. 1: Always get the newspaper) or plow my own driveway.

When the story was done and my shift had ended, I went through the all-too-familiar ritual recently of putting on my winter gear and heading out to rev up the snowblower. With my daughter returning that night from a getaway to Memphis, Tenn., after enduring a six-hour flight delay because of the weather, I faced another deadline — she needed a ride and had probably done enough waiting around for one day. I plowed enough to get in and out of the driveway.

After procrastinating through a busy Wednesday, I finally set out to do some cleanup work with my snowblower on Thursday — after grabbing my Leader-Telegram from its bright orange newspaper box that barely extended above the snowbank created by plowing crews (Lesson No. 2: Don’t wait to clear snow from around your mail and newspaper receptacles).

I began this chore by clearing the gift left at the end of my driveway by municipal plows and then crossed the street to snowblow around the newspaper box so it wasn’t too long a reach for the driver. That’s when I suddenly heard a loud thud from my snowblower, followed by the silence of an engine stopped abruptly by a rolled up newspaper that apparently had been buried under the snow and become jammed between the impeller and the frame so tightly it wouldn’t budge.

This is the point where I have to admit the same thing happened to me once before. Indeed, astute readers may recall me writing a blog on the topic six years ago (Lesson No. 3: Learn from your mistakes).

After uttering a few words unfit for a family newspaper — even the one wedged inside my snowblower — I wheeled the machine to the garage and began trying to extract the paper from its hard-to-reach hiding place.

I tried several implements to remove the newspaper with no luck before electing to research my options. I was surprised, and I must admit comforted, to see that a Google search for the words snowblower, clogged and newspaper yielded more than 45,000 results. I found articles, videos, blogs and online forum discussions about the problem. Apparently, it’s a thing.

I also called the friendly folks at Barstow Street Auto, where I had brought snowblowers for service in the past, and they assured me they’d seen newspapers and all sorts of other items jammed inside snowblowers, but also noted recent snowstorms had generated a repair backlog of about two weeks.

Armed with multiple tips on how to rectify the problem, I returned to the garage to try them out — with the snowblower turned off and key removed, of course. In addition to tugging with my fingers, I pushed, pulled and pounded with a channel-lock pliers, tire iron, saw, jumbo screwdriver and hammer. I even tried one promising tip I’d read — dumping hot, soapy water on the newspaper to make it disintegrate — multiple times.

Yet despite pulling out chunks of soggy newsprint, advertising fliers and the plastic bag intended to keep the paper dry for THREE HOURS, I still hadn’t succeeded in removing enough of the clog to make the snowblower work as of this writing, although I did have tiny frozen shreds of about 90 percent of the newspaper all over the garage floor.

This gives a whole new meaning to the term “breaking news” or to the image that likely will come to my mind the next time I hear Frank Sinatra croon “start spreading the news.”

Update: I’m thrilled to report that, after another hour of chipping away at the frozen chunk of newspaper with a hammer and screwdriver on Saturday, my hard work was rewarded with the hum of the snowblower once more. Who says there’s no good news in the paper these days?

Based on Webster’s definition of irony — a combination of circumstances or a result that is the opposite of what is or might be expected or considered appropriate — I feel confident in saying the ironies in this situation abound:

• My troubles were caused by a newspaper even though the incident occurred while I was clearing a path so my delivery person could more easily delivery the newspaper.

• I finished working for the newspaper only to have a newspaper create a huge job for me in my free time.

• The newspaper normally tries to shine a light on things so the public isn’t in the dark and yet in this case the newspaper itself was hiding in a spot where I had difficulty getting any light to shine.

• Last but definitely not least, the lead story on the front page of the newspaper jammed in my snowblower was written by me. The subject: challenges facing area residents as a result of the snow.

Despite my travails, I want to be clear that I still strongly encourage Chippewa Valley residents to continue gobbling up as much news as possible — just not with their snowblowers.

Photo by Michael Schwartz  

Comedian Paula Poundstone is known for her improvisational stand-up act and through her books such as “The Totally Unscientific Study of the Search for Human Happiness”; her podcast, “Nobody Listens to Paula Poundstone”; and as a panelist on “Wait, Wait ... Don’t Tell Me,” National Public Radio’s weekly quiz show.