“Jayme Closs has been located.”
Barron County Sheriff Chris Fitzgerald set off a firestorm with those words in a statement that went out at 7:56 p.m. Thursday announcing that the Barron County teen — missing for almost three months after her parents were slain in their home — had been found in rural Douglas County. And she was alive, just as he had always hoped.
Fitzgerald released few other details but said a news conference is set for about 10 this morning.
“It’ll be exciting to see how this came about,” said Eau Claire County Sheriff Ron Cramer, who sent staff from his office to Barron County to assist Fitzgerald and his office after James and Denise Closs were found shot to death in their home west of Barron on Oct. 15 and their 13-year-old daughter, Jayme, believed to have been home at the time of the killings, was missing.
“This investigation was such an unusual one,” Cramer said. “A lot of investigators we talked with over coffee were baffled. … There were so many theories bouncing around.”
The Douglas County sheriff's office confirmed on its website that Jayme was found at 4:43 p.m. Thursday in the town of Gordon, and that a suspect was taken into custody 11 minutes later.
Neither statement gave any further information about the suspect. Jayme's grandfather, Robert Naiberg, told the Star Tribune in Minneapolis that Jayme was being treated at a hospital.
Chippewa County Sheriff Jim Kowalczyk, who also sent staff to assist Barron County authorities, learned Jayme had been found Thursday night through a call from dispatch.
“Unbelievable,” said the longtime law enforcement officer. “To find her alive after three months, wow! When something like this goes on so long, there often isn’t the result.”
Fitzgerald said Jayme was expected to be reunited with her family Thursday night.
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."
Gillian Drummond, a spokeswoman for the state Department of Justice, and Leonard Peace, a spokesman for the FBI in Wisconsin, declined comment Thursday evening. Both agencies have been involved in the search for Jayme.
Jayme has been missing since her parents, James and Denise Closs, were found shot to death Oct. 15 in the family's home near Barron. Investigators said Jayme was quickly ruled out as a suspect.
Throughout the nearly three-month ordeal, Fitzgerald continued to believe Jayme was alive.
“Sheriff Fitzgerald, I give him a lot of credit,” Cramer said. “He called a lot of resources in — the FBI, local agencies. He stuck with it, keeping the story in the media’s and the public’s eyes.”
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.
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. I've always been a glass half-full kind of guy," Fitzgerald said at the time.
The town of Gordon lies about 40 miles south of the Lake Superior shoreline and 65 miles north of Barron. Gordon is home to about 645 people. The area is heavily forested. Logging is the top industry in the region.
Town Chairman Denny Kline said Jayme was found about six miles east of town. He described the area as a small-town development with single-family, cabinlike homes.
He said he first learned Jayme had been found while listening to a police scanner, adding that he heard Jayme was walking down a road and someone stopped near her. Kline said he heard over the scanner that Jayme told them who she was, and they brought her to their home.
"A lot of people were very concerned, did a lot of praying and all that," he said. "Prayers were answered, for finding her, anyway."
Resident Kristin Kasinskas told the Star Tribune that a neighbor waking a dog knocked on her door Thursday afternoon. Standing with her was a skinny, dirty girl with matted hair, wearing shoes too big for her feet.
"This is Jayme Closs! Call 911!" the neighbor said to Kasinskas. Jayme was quiet, her emotions "pretty flat," Kasinskas' husband, Peter, said.
The woman who found Jayme asked the newspaper not to use her name.
In the 20 minutes Jayme was in their home, the Kasinskas tried to make her feel more comfortable, they said. They offered her water and food, but she declined both.
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.
"I honestly still think I'm dreaming right now. It was like I was seeing a ghost," Peter Kasinskas said. "My jaw just went to the floor."
The Associated Press was not able to verify the Kasinskases' account with authorities late Thursday. The nonemergency line at the Douglas County sheriff's office rang unanswered, and Sheriff Thomas Dalbec didn't respond to an email.
Barron Mayor Ron Fladten said Thursday night he hadn't heard any details about Jayme's discovery yet but 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 in southeastern Wisconsin. Douglas County, where Jayme was found, is hundreds of miles northwest of Walworth County.
In the brief statement he sent out Thursday, Fitzgerald thanked the law enforcement agencies statewide and across the country that assisted his office in the case.
“We also could not have endured this case without the support of the public, and I want to thank them for all the support and help,” Fitzgerald wrote.
“Finally, we want to especially thank the family for their support and patience while this case was ongoing. We promised to bring Jayme home, and tonight we get to fulfill that promise.”