GREEN BAY, Wis. – A missing 13-year-old girl was found alive Thursday nearly three months after her parents were found shot to death in their Wisconsin home, authorities say.
Barron County Sheriff Chris Fitzgerald announced that Jayme Closs was located Thursday afternoon by officials in Gordon, a town of fewer than 1,000 people in northwestern Wisconsin. A suspect was taken into custody shortly after, Fitzgerald said.
Fitzgerald said no further details are available at this time, citing a “fluid” and active investigation.
A news conference is scheduled for 10 a.m. CST Friday at the Barron County Sheriff’s Department.
KARE-TV, in Minneapolis reported that Jayme was found in Eau Claire Acres, a small development about 6 miles east of Gordon, according to the town of Gordon’s board chairman.
The Star Tribune of Minneapolis reported that a source with knowledge of the investigation said Jayme escaped from a home in Gordon and approached a neighbor, identified herself, said she’d been kidnapped, and asked the neighbor to call 911.
“I mean I’m shocked,” Jayme’s aunt, Kelly Engelhardt, told KARE. “It’s what we’ve prayed for every single day.”
Engelhardt told KARE that she thinks Closs will be home Thursday night or Friday. She said the family does not believe Jayme is physically hurt that they know of, and that the FBI told the family she is talking and answering questions.
Jeff Closs, Jayme’s uncle, told KARE that the family is in shock.
“We’re all just so grateful and happy,” he said. “We thought it was going to be a different ending and we’re so happy. … Hopefully she’s OK, we don’t know what condition. Just she’s alive.”
Closs disappeared on Oct. 15, the same day her parents, James, 56, and Denise, 46, were found shot to death in their home outside Barron, about 70 miles south of Gordon. Authorities ruled the deaths homicides.
In a Facebook post announcing Closs had been found, Fitzgerald thanked the family “for their support and patience while this case was ongoing. We promised to bring Jayme home and tonight we get to fulfill that promise.”
Jayme is a student at Riverview Middle School. Her parents were longtime employees at Barron’s Jennie-O Turkey Store.
Police received a 911 call at 12:58 a.m. from Denise Closs’ phone on the night of Jayme’s disappearance. The sound of yelling was audible in the background, according to the call log. But the dispatcher wasn’t able to connect with the caller, so it’s unclear who dialed 911. Authorities have said Jayme was home at the time of the slayings.
Officials arrived at the family’s home to find the front door kicked in.
A neighbor, Joan Smrekar, told USA TODAY Network-Wisconsin that she and her husband heard two gunshots at around 12:30 a.m. on Oct. 15. But Fitzgerald previously said the neighbors’ account is unsubstantiated.
The incident rattled the quiet northwestern Wisconsin community that, up until then, had been focusing much of its energy on celebrating local “The Voice” contestant Chris Kroeze. But residents came together to mourn James and Denise Closs and pray for Jayme’s safe return, making lanterns and erecting Christmas trees in the hope of lighting her way home.
Law enforcement officials, meanwhile, spent months bewildered by the case. Criminal justice experts have called it unusual and said it’s not common for a missing child to be linked to a double homicide. And the “million dollar question” during the investigation, Fitzgerald previously said, was whether the incident was random or targeted.
Although police received more than 2,000 tips, they had few leads until now.
Fitzgerald announced that Closs had been found at about 8 p.m. Thursday. Just hours earlier he had tamped down a rumor that she had been found in Walworth County in southeastern Wisconsin.
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