Unemployed man, 21, charged after Wisconsin teen Jayme Closs escapes three-month kidnapping ordeal

VIDEO: REUTERS
Jayme Closs' disappearance made national news, sparking massive searches, with volunteers scouring woods and fields in suburban Minneapolis, and the offer of a reward for her safe return.
Jayme Closs' disappearance made national news, sparking massive searches, with volunteers scouring woods and fields in suburban Minneapolis, and the offer of a reward for her safe return.PHOTO: AFP/BARRON COUNTY SHERIFF'S DEPARTMENT
VIDEO: REUTERS

MINNEAPOLIS (REUTERS) - Police in Wisconsin on Friday (Jan 11) charged a 21-year-old unemployed man with kidnapping a 13-year-old girl and murdering her parents, the morning after she escaped three months of captivity and was found by a woman walking her dog.

The teenager, missing since her parents were found shot dead in their home in October, was discovered dirty and malnourished in Gordon, Wisconsin, about 100km north of her home town of Barron.

Her escape ended an 88-day-mystery over her disappearance that galvanised about 1,500 people - close to half the population of her home town of 3,400 - to join in searches.

They included wooded areas in suburban Minneapolis, about 145km west of Gordon.

Jake Patterson was charged with two counts of first-degree murder and one count of kidnapping, Barron County Sheriff Chris Fitzgerald told reporters at a news conference on Friday.

Police pulled his car over on Thursday after Closs gave the authorities a description of her captor's vehicle.

Closs managed to escape from the home where she was confined, a feat that Fitzgerald called "unthinkable".

"That is the will of a kid to survive," he said.

Patterson is unemployed and has no criminal record in Wisconsin, the authorities said.

The sheriff said he was not sure whether Patterson and Closs knew each other.

Closs appeared to have been the "only target" of the crime, Fitzgerald said.

 

Closs stayed in a hospital overnight for evaluation and was speaking with federal and state investigators on Friday and medical professionals before she was to be reunited with relatives.

"I just cried... lots of happy tears," Jen Smith, the girl's aunt, told ABC's Good Morning America programme, when the Barron County Sheriff informed her that Jayme had been found alive.

The woman walking her dog who encountered Closs took her to a neighbour's house so they could call the authorities. Both the woman and the neighbour recognised Closs from the massive publicity the case has drawn, the authorities said.

In 2017, 99 per cent of missing children cases that involved Amber Alerts, like Closs', were solved, according to the US Justice Department, with only two cases outstanding at the end of the year.

The Amber Alert system, launched in 1996, notifies the US public about missing children, with tips relayed to law enforcement agencies.

Of the children found in 2017, 96 per cent were recovered within 72 hours of an alert.

There is still hope even when children are missing for longer periods of time to be found, according to Angeline Hartmann, media director at the National Centre for Missing and Exploited children.

"This is the reason why we push so hard and ask the public to stay engaged with us, share our posters," Hartmann said.

"It can happen after 87 days, after nine months, or after 18 years."