abduction victim

Jessyca Christianson, known as Jessyca Mullenberg when she was abducted from Eau Claire County in 1995, gives a presentation in 2017 to students at Black River Falls Middle School for National Sexual Assault Awareness Month. Christianson says 13-year-old Jayme Closs of Barron County still faces many challenges after her nearly three-month abduction ended Thursday.

Her time as a captive may be over, but Jayme Closs of rural Baron likely still faces a long road to recovery, a former area child abduction victim says.

Jayme on Thursday fled the cabin near Gordon in northwestern Wisconsin, where she had been imprisoned, and sought help from Jeanne Nutter, a Strum social worker who was walking her dog.

Authorities arrested 21-year-old Jake T. Patterson a few minutes later and on Monday charged him with two counts of first-degree murder, kidnapping and armed burglary in connection with the Oct. 15 shooting deaths of Jayme’s parents, James and Denise Closs, and Jayme’s abduction.

Jessyca Mullenberg, who also was 13 when she was abducted from her father’s town of Seymour mobile home in September 1995 by then-38-year-old Steven Oliver of Eau Claire, said the distressing memories came flooding back when she heard about Jayme’s Oct. 15 disappearance from her home near Barron.

Just as with Jayme’s case, Jessyca’s disappearance generated national news coverage, tremendous concern among local residents and thousands of tips that proved to be dead ends.

Most importantly, both girls defied the odds by surviving their captivity — 88 days for Jayme and 105 days for Jessyca.

“I’m just truly thankful that Jayme was found and that she gets to come home,” said Jessyca, now 36 and a mother of two living in Plover. Her married name is Christianson.

Jessyca’s mother, Monica Lukasavige of Stevens Point, also was ecstatic about the news that Jayme managed to escape her captor and has been reported to be in good health.

“It’s such a miracle. Oh my God! I am so overjoyed for them,” Lukasavige said. “The similarities of the two cases are startling.”

Potential challenges

Still, both Jessyca and her mother cautioned that the trauma of an abduction doesn’t necessarily end once a child is freed.

After an initial barrage of media coverage and community welcome-home celebrations, Jessyca, for instance, endured years of bullying related to her captivity.

She reported getting pushed down the stairs and taunted, with some classmates complaining that she received preferential treatment because she missed school for Oliver’s trial and for counseling. Some students even claimed Jessyca was lucky to have been kidnapped because she received presents and got to be on TV.

Even worse, some students suggested Jessyca must have wanted to be with Oliver because she didn’t do enough to escape her abductor, despite him repeatedly beating, sexually assaulting and threatening her.

Jessyca also faced self-doubt because some people told her victims of so much abuse never amount to anything.

Jessyca’s ordeal reached the point where she withdrew from social activities and spent nearly all her time attending class, working and playing sports. She ate lunch by herself in the art room at her school because it was too uncomfortable to eat with her classmates.

“People judge you and it’s hard not to take it to heart, although I eventually learned to just ignore it or say something back,” said Jessyca, who was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder after her kidnapping. “I’m hoping none of that happens to Jayme.”

Lukasavige advised Jayme’s family to guide her into a routine as quickly as possible and to work with teachers and school administrators “to really, really guard against bullying.”

“The goal is to keep things as normal as possible even though they’re not,” Lukasavige said.

‘Why we never lose hope’

Another high-profile kidnapping victim, Elizabeth Smart, who was held for nine months after being abducted from her Salt Lake City home in 2002, weighed in on Instagram Friday after Jayme’s escape, calling it a miracle.

“I’m praying for Jayme and all her family that they can have a joyous reunion and as the rest of the country celebrates alongside this happy occasion we all are mindful to give the family their space and privacy on their road to finding a new sense of normal and moving forward,” Smart wrote. “What a brave, strong, and powerful survivor!!!! No matter what may unfold in her story let’s all try to remember that this young woman has SURVIVED and whatever other details may surface the most important will still remain that she is alive.”

The National Center for Missing & Exploited Children issued a statement after Jayme was located saying, “This is why we never lose hope. Jayme is an example of why we never stop searching.”

Indeed, NCMEC has about 6,000 active cases of missing children, including nearly 1,100 that are considered long-term cases, generally defined as involving children missing for multiple years.

Alan Nanavaty, executive director of NCMEC’s missing children division, said the main message to come out of Jayme’s case is that she gets the credit for her recovery.

“Her bravery and tenacity, after everything she went through, to approach strangers and seek help, was remarkable,” Nanavaty said.

He also credited law enforcement agencies and community residents for their exhaustive efforts to find Jayme and to keep her name and face in the public eye, efforts that may have been responsible for the first people Jayme encountered after escaping the cabin immediately recognizing her.

Looking ahead, Jayme likely will need support for years to fully recover, Nanavaty said, adding, “One positive is she seems like a very strong person.”

In Jessyca’s case, the FBI eventually recovered her from a Houston hotel, where Oliver had abused her and kept her locked up for 3½ months.

Her abductor had cut and dyed Jessyca’s hair and threatened to kill her and her family if she didn’t go by a fake name and pretend to be Oliver’s daughter.

The breakthrough finally came after an Eau Claire sheriff’s office investigator appeared on Fox’s “America’s Most Wanted: Final Justice,” a national TV show that highlighted cases of people sought by law enforcement.

While the initial airing didn’t produce any promising leads, a repeat of the show prompted a woman from Texas to report that she recognized Oliver and Jessyca as a pair posing as father and daughter and staying at a Days Inn in Houston.

About an hour later, Jessyca had been found safe and Oliver was in custody before eventually being sentenced to 40 years in prison on felony charges of kidnapping and transporting a minor across state lines for immoral purposes.

Reaching out

Though Jessyca and Lukasavige readily acknowledged they don’t know the details of Jayme’s captivity and understand that the slaying of her parents adds a horrific dimension to her case, they were pleased to read that Jayme’s aunt, Jennifer Smith of Barron, stepped forward to take guardianship of the girl and provide her with a loving home environment.

Jessyca and Lukasavige also both said they intend to reach out to the family to offer any support or advice that might be desired.

“I’ve been there, so I think it might be helpful,” Jessyca said. “What happened to us is wrong and will never be forgotten, and those responsible will never pay the price we paid.”

Generally, Jessyca recalled that she wanted to attend school as soon as possible after her return in an attempt to get back to normal, but authorities pushed her into counseling right away. While she said ongoing therapy has been helpful, Jessyca suggested that family members let Jayme decide the timing of some of those things.

Lukasavige recalled that what she used to tell Jessyca — “It will get better, but it will take time” — proved true.

However, Lukasavige cautioned that people who go through such traumatic experiences, even ones with happy endings, never leave them behind completely.

“I think about it every day,” Lukasavige said. “Your life is before it happened and after it happened. It never leaves you.”