A 21-year-old man is jailed in the deaths of a Wisconsin couple he killed because he wanted to kidnap their teenage daughter, investigators said Friday, a day after the girl approached a stranger along a rural road saying she’d been abducted in October and held against her will.
Jake Thomas Patterson was taken into custody shortly after 13-year-old Jayme Closs sought help from a woman walking her dog in a rural, heavily wooded neighborhood near the small town of Gordon, about 95 kilometres north of Barron, Wis. Closs disappeared from her family’s home in Barron when her parents were killed Oct. 15.
During a news conference Friday, Barron County Sheriff Chris Fitzgerald said Closs was taken against her will. The sheriff also said investigators don’t believe Patterson had any contact with the family.
Fitzgerald said investigators believe Patterson killed Closs’s parents because he wanted to abduct her, and that Patterson “planned his actions and took many steps to hide his identity.”
Patterson, from Gordon, is being held on two counts of first-degree intentional homicide and one count of kidnapping. Charges are expected to be finalized in several days.
Fitzgerald said investigators believe the girl was “the only target” but they weren’t yet able to say how they believe the suspect learned about her.
A woman said she was walking her dog along a rural road Thursday afternoon when a dishevelled teenage girl called for help, quickly grabbed her and told her she was lost. Only then did the girl reveal her name.
‘Lots of happy tears’
Jeanne Nutter said Friday that Closs told her 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, a social worker who spent years working in child protection, told The Associated Press on Friday. “She just yelled, ‘Please help me, I don’t know where I am. I’m lost.'”
The two went elsewhere in the neighborhood, to the home of Peter and Kristin Kasinskas. Closs was skinny and dirty, wearing shoes too big for her feet, but appeared outwardly OK, the neighbours 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.”
Fitzgerald called it “remarkable” that she was recognized by members of the public, which was the hope of authorities. He called receiving the word that Closs was found one of the happiest moments of his life.
The girl’s disappearance in October made national news in the U.S. and stunned her hometown, population 3,400, about 140 kilometres east of Minneapolis and sparked massive searches with 1,500 volunteers scouring woods and fields in suburban Minneapolis. A $25,000 reward was offered for her safe return.
“I just cried … lots of happy tears,” Jen Smith, the girl’s aunt, told ABC’s Good Morning America early Friday.
Elizabeth Smart, rescued nine months after being abducted while a teen from her Salt Lake City home in 2002, called the result “a miracle.”
Smart posted Friday on her Instagram account that she was thrilled Closs had been found. Smart, now 31, said that while the country celebrates this “happy occasion,” the girl’s family should be given “space and privacy on their road to finding a new sense of normal and moving forward.”
Smart, now a broadcast journalist, said “whatever other details may surface, the most important will still remain that she is alive.”