Jayme Closs, the 13-year-old Wisconsin girl who vanished after her parents were found shot to death in their Barron, Wis., home nearly three months ago, was found alive after she flagged down a woman walking her dog Thursday in northwestern Wisconsin.
The teen appeared unkempt, looked thinner than her photograph on the missing person posters hung across Wisconsin, and was wearing shoes too big for her when she showed up at Kristin Kasinskas' front door in Gordon, Wis.
Kasinskas said the girl flagged down one of her neighbors who was walking her dog Thursday around 4 p.m.
"She opened up our door and said this is Jayme Closs, call 911. And so we called 911," Kasinskas said late Thursday from her home in Gordon, a town of several hundred residents about 60 miles north of Barron.
Kasinskas said she was shocked: "But we, we recognized her right away, so we knew it wasn't a fake. She just opened up the door and said she was Jayme Closs and that she'd been taken and her parents had been murdered."
Jayme said she got out of a nearby home when she had been left alone, Kasinskas said. She added that Jayme did not share many details, but did say she had never been to Gordon.
Forrest Nutter said his wife, Jeanne, told him that Jayme came out of a heavily wooded area near the couple's cabin and approached her while she walking the couple's dog. Jayme told Jeanne Nutter who she was but his wife recognized her, he said.
His wife, a former social worker who had just arrived at the couple's cabin Thursday, maintained her composure and took Jayme to Kasinskas' home, he said.
"If they had been 10 minutes either side and she didn't find somebody, that young lady would have stayed back in the woods and the guy would have been looking for her. It was just coming together, the stars y'know?," Forrest Nutter said.
Authorities had one suspect in custody Thursday evening, in a case that seemed to stymie investigators nearly from the beginning. But one they vowed to solve.
'All just so grateful and happy'
The Barron County Sheriff's Department announced on its Facebook page just before 8 p.m. Thursday that Jayme has been found alive. Her parents — James Closs, 56, and Denise Closs, 46 — were found fatally shot in their home on Oct. 15, 2018.
Jayme was found at 4:43 p.m. Thursday, the Douglas County Sheriff's Office said.
Authorities have not released the suspect's name. Barron County Sheriff Chris Fitzgerald wrote on the department's Facebook page that he had no additional details to report, but had scheduled a news conference for 10 a.m. Friday in Barron.
Not long after she was found, Jayme's uncle, Jeff Closs, spoke with KARE-TV. "We're not sure if she's going to be found, and then when you actually hear it. It's just unbelievable," he said. "We're all just so grateful and happy."
Fitzgerald said on Facebook that the teen was expected to be reunited with family Thursday night.
Since mid-October, detectives have pursued thousands of tips, watched dozens of surveillance videos and spent countless hours searching for the missing teenager. Neighbors, family and volunteers gathered to help with searches of the area. Deer hunters were asked to keep an eye out for any evidence that might offer a break in the case. Local investigators were aided by the Wisconsin Division of Criminal Investigation and the FBI. The agency offered a $25,000 reward for relevant information.
But investigators did not recover any DNA evidence or fingerprints. They didn't find shoe prints inside the Jayme home, Fitzgerald told MPR News in December.
"We had four different crime labs go over the scene and we didn't recover anything," he said.
Tips, searches and volunteers
Authorities believe Jayme was at home when her parents were killed. Fitzgerald said throughout the investigation that he did not believe that that she was involved in her parents' deaths.
Described during the three months of searching as "5 feet tall and 100 pounds with strawberry-blond hair and green eyes," Jayme is an eighth-grader at Riverview Middle School in Barron, where she's a member of the school choir. Her disappearance and her parents' deaths rattled her close-knit community.
More than 2,000 volunteers showed up to help with two searches around Barron in October. And as the mystery of her disappearance stretched past the fall and into the Christmas holiday, Jayme Closs' neighbors, classmates and family in Barron held vigil, wrapping a community tree in green and blue lights: green for hope, blue for grief.
Barron Mayor Ron Fladten told The Associated Press Thursday night he was overjoyed that she had been found alive.
"A lot of people have been praying daily, as I have," Fladten said. "It's just a great result we got tonight. It's unbelievable. It's like taking a big black cloud in the sky and getting rid of it and the sun comes out again."
He told the AP that he hadn't yet heard any further details about the discovery, but hoped the teenager was doing all right.
"She's no doubt been through just a terrible ordeal," the mayor said. "I think everybody wishes her a good recovery and a happy life going into the future."
Forrest Nutter, whose wife helped Jayme get to safety, described the home where she was apparently being kept as rundown and in a heavily wooded area. He said there was nothing that would have drawn attention to the home. The area is mostly seasonal cabins with just a handful of year-round residents, like the Kasinskas family.
Kasinskas said Jayme sat on her couch and waited for the police to arrive. She offered the teen something to eat and drink, but she declined.
Jayme did describe the home where she had been. It was just down the road, said Kasinskas, who added she did not know the owner or its occupants.
"It's scary is what it is,'' she said. "It was crazy."
Authorities announced Thursday evening that 13-year-old Jayme Closs had been found in the Douglas County town of Gordon, Wis., about an hour north of her Barron, Wis., hometown. She had been missing for nearly three months.