Fri. 8:32 a.m.: UPDATE: Wis. girl missing since parents’ deaths found
MADISON, Wis. (AP) — A Wisconsin teenager missing for nearly three months after her parents were killed in the family home was found alive barely an hour’s drive away, by a woman who stumbled across the 13-year-old girl and pounded on her neighbors’ door shouting: “This is Jayme Closs! Call 911!”
Jayme was skinny and dirty, wearing shoes too big for her feet, but appeared outwardly OK when she was discovered Thursday afternoon near the small town of Gordon, 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 said a suspect was in custody, but otherwise didn’t give any additional details ahead of a news conference planned for today in Barron, in northwestern Wisconsin.
Jen Smith told ABC’s “Good Morning America” this morning that investigators told her that her niece, 13-year-old Jayme Closs, had escaped and was being treated at a hospital Thursday.
Smith says she was given no other details about the case, other than being told a suspect was in custody.
Jayme went missing on Oct. 15 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, with the Barron County Sheriff’s Department describing her as likely 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.
He was right.
The Star Tribune reported that Town of Gordon resident Kristin Kasinskas heard a knock on her door Thursday afternoon. It was her neighbor, who had been out walking her dog when Jayme approached her asking for help. The woman, who declined to be identified, said she was pretty sure who the girl was, but any doubt was erased when Jayme gave her name.
During the 20 minutes Jayme was in their home, Kasinskas and her husband, Peter, tried to make her feel more comfortable, they said. They offered her water and food, but she declined both. Jayme was quiet, her emotions “pretty flat,” Peter Kasinskas said.
Jayme told the couple she didn’t know where she was or anything about Gordon. From what she told them, they believed she was there for most of her disappearance.
Gordon is about 40 miles south of Lake Superior and about 65 miles north of Barron, Jayme’s hometown. Gordon is home to about 645 people in a heavily forested region where logging is the top industry.
The Douglas County Sheriff’s Office confirmed on its website that Jayme was found in the town at 4:43 p.m. Thursday, and that a suspect was taken into custody 11 minutes later. The Associated Press couldn’t confirm the Kasinskases’ account; the sheriff’s office’s non-emergency line rang unanswered Thursday night, and Sheriff Thomas Dalbec didn’t respond to an email.