Jeanne Nutter was walking her dog along a rural road near her Douglas County cabin when a disheveled teenage girl called out to her for help, quickly grabbed her and told her she was lost.
Then the girl told Nutter, of Eau Claire, her name: Jayme Closs, the 13-year-old Barron girl who vanished three months ago after her parents were fatally shot in the family’s home.
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 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 said. “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 arrested Jake Thomas Patterson, 21, on kidnapping and homicide charges.
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.