BARRON — In recent months, Barron County Sheriff Chris Fitzgerald has seen Jayme Closs around town, out in the community, trying to reclaim a normal life. Fitzgerald has seen her at the Barron County Fair and at school functions.
Fitzgerald recommends that people give the girl her space — if they knew her before she was kidnapped a year ago, it’s OK to say hello. If people didn’t know her, Fitzgerald suggests they pass by and leave the teen alone.
“We let her go about with her life,” he said.
Several people spoke at a press conference Monday morning on the anniversary of the kidnapping of Jayme, and the shooting deaths of her parents, James and Denise Closs.
“She is moving forward, courageously, and reclaiming her life,” said family attorney Chris Gramstrup. “Often it is Jayme who is inspiring us.”
Gramstrup also read a note from Jayme, who wrote that she is doing well.
“I feel stronger every day,” Jayme wrote.
Gramstrup added that Jayme has gone to weddings and family functions over the summer, and she had a big celebration for her 14th birthday. She has gotten back into her daily routine and reconnected with her friends.
“She’s opened her heart in a way and given people around her a real sense of trust,” Gramstrup said.
James and Denise Closs died Oct. 15, 2018, when 21-year-old Jake T. Patterson drove to their house a mile west of Barron and killed them each with a single shot. Patterson kidnapped Jayme, taking her to a remote cabin near Gordon, where he kept her under a bed much of each day. Jayme escaped 88 days later, on Jan. 10.
In March, Patterson pleaded guilty to two counts of first-degree intentional homicide and one count of kidnapping.
In May, Barron County Judge James Babler sentenced Patterson to serve life in prison with no possibility of parole on each homicide charge, consecutive to each other. Also, he sentenced Patterson to 25 years in prison and 15 years of extended supervision on the kidnapping conviction. He has since been moved to a prison out of state.
Life in Barron is now slightly altered, with a “new normal,” Fitzgerald said.
“We know where our kids are a lot more,” Fitzgerald said. “It’s neighbors helping neighbors.”
Fitzgerald praised the 2,000 people who volunteered to help search for clues to Jayme’s whereabouts, and thanked the Barron community for rallying behind her. He mentioned the sheer number of law enforcement that worked on the case, leading to 32,000 reports on the case. And he talked about courage, resilience and hope that led to Jayme coming home.
“This community has a new normal, and came together like I’ve never seen in the past,” Fitzgerald said. “We never gave up, and I hope Jayme felt that.”
Fitzgerald handed out nearly a dozen one-foot-tall statues to investigators who played a key role in her recovery. The base of the statues reads “Never Give Up Hope.” Fitzgerald kept one of the statues, saying it would go on display in the courthouse.
“It will represent every officer that took time on this case,” he said.
Barron County district attorney Brian Wright said it was a day to reflect on the loss of James and Denise Closs, but “today is also a day to give thanks for her escape and her safe return home.”
Wright said Fitzgerald deserves credit for keeping the case in the public’s eye, talking to media and getting posters distributed with Jayme’s face prominently displayed. When Jayme escaped and came across Jeanne Nutter, a woman walking her dog, Nutter immediately recognized Jayme because of those posters and pictures, Wright said.
Fitzgerald praised Jayme for never giving up hope. However, there are numerous missing children in Wisconsin alone that deserve attention, in hopes they can be reunited with their families.
“I saw and felt the power of good,” Fitzgerald said. “Let’s take that energy and go make a difference.”
At the conclusion of the press conference, Mike Bushland shared the story of his daughter’s disappearance as she got off a school bus in 1996; Sara Bushland of Spooner was 15 at the time.
“We know someone out there knows something,” Bushland said.
Bushland admits when he heard Closs was taken after Patterson saw her get off a bus, he hoped Patterson was in his 40s or older, and might have been responsible for Sara’s disappearance too. Bushland praised Fitzgerald and law enforcement for getting Jayme’s face out to the public, believing it was a factor in her coming home.
At least one of Closs’s family members attended the press conference on Monday but opted not to speak to media, Fitzgerald said.