BARRON — The man suspected of kidnapping Jayme Closs on Oct. 15 and killing her parents has no criminal background and no apparent ties to the teen, said Barron County Sheriff Chris Fitzgerald.
The suspect has been identified as 21-year-old Jake Thomas Patterson of Gordon in Douglas County. He is in the Barron County Jail on possible charges of two counts of first-degree homicide and one count of kidnapping. A criminal complaint is expected to be filed next week, and Patterson would appear in court for the first time.
Fitzgerald said the work done by everyone who put up missing posters and signs was crucial, because it kept Closs’ face in the public’s eye.
Closs escaped from the home sometime after 4 p.m. Thursday, headed down a road, and found Jeanne Nutter, a social worker from Eau Claire, walking a dog. She identified herself to Nutter, and they went to a neighbor’s home, who immediately called 911, Fitzgerald said.
“That is the will of a kid to survive,” Fitzgerald said. “She was recognized immediately by the female walking the dog and the neighbor — that’s because of the work we did.”
Closs was treated at a hospital and stayed overnight, but has been deemed healthy and has been cleared. Fitzgerald said he didn’t know if there were any signs of abuse.
Closs was able to identify the car driven by her captor, and police were able to arrest him shortly after that, as he was just down the road from his residence.
Officers went to the home, and no one else was present. Fitzgerald said they have no other suspects.
“It’s a home in a remote area,” Fitzgerald said. “There aren’t a lot of houses in that area.”
Fitzgerald said that Patterson, who was unemployed, took “steps to conceal his identity” over the past three months, but wouldn’t elaborate further. He didn’t know how she was held captive for the past 88 days, whether she was locked in a room or restrained. He added that he hadn’t seen her yet.
It also is still unclear what ties Patterson and Closs together, as police haven’t uncovered any social media connections between them.
Several of thqe people who spoke at the press conference Friday repeated that it was 88 days since she was kidnapped. Fitzgerald said he never gave up hope she would be found alive. However, he said it was an unreal moment when he heard she had been found.
“My legs started to shake,” Fitzgerald said. “It was awesome.”
Fitzgerald thanked the public for the 3,500 tips that came into his office, for the people who showed up and walked fields looking for clues, and everyone who has provided food for his department and kept hope alive. He added that the Closs family is requesting privacy, and the media were asked to not go onto school property Friday.
Justin Tolomeo of the Milwaukee division of the FBI called it “an incredible day.” He praised all the law enforcement who have worked together, hoping to find the ‘big break’ that would resolve the case.
“It was Jayme herself who gave us this big break,” Tolomeo said. “This is all the outcome we’d like to have when a child goes missing.”
Barron School Superintendent Diane Tremblay couldn’t conceal her excitement.
“What a glorious day. This will certainly never be forgotten,” Tremblay said. “There is a lot of love, and hugs, in our school district.”
Tremblay said the students and staff have spent 88 days hoping for her safe return.
“We want to thank Jayme for being so courageous and finding her way back to us,” Tremblay said.
Tremblay said she has frequently been asked if the district would hold a celebration.
“You better believe it,” she said.
Fitzgerald said Thursday had been a crazy day early because he spent the morning debunking rumors that Closs had been located elsewhere in the state.
“Gordon was not on our radar,” he said.
The community of 3,400 residents was already showing signs of celebrating Friday, as the sign in front of Barron City Hall had already been changed to read “Welcome Home Jayme.”
“Everyone is just ecstatic,” said city lineman Jeremy Schlosser, who was fixing the sign Friday morning. “I guess they stopped the basketball game (Thursday night) to announce it.”
Barron Mayor Ron Fladten said “I was blown away — that was the initial reaction.”
“The community has handled this whole thing very well,” Fladten said. “Boom! A miracle occurred. It’s a lot to process. It’s almost unbelievable. There are so many cases with sad endings, so it’s a lot to absorb.”
The case began on Sunday, Oct. 15, when the Barron County dispatch center received a call from a home about one mile west of Barron. Officers arrived and found James and Denise Closs had been shot to death in their home, and 13-year-old daughter, Jayme, believed to have been home at the time of the killings, was missing.