BARRON, Wis. (WCCO) — Tuesday will mark one year since a small town in western Wisconsin tirelessly searched for a missing teenager who eventually saved herself. Jayme Closs was kidnapped from her home in Barron in the early morning hours of Oct. 15 last year.
Her parents, James and Denise, were shot and killed. Jayme was able to escape her captor and rescue herself in January.
In a town of less than 4,000, the blue and green signs have come down. The media trucks have gone and the spotlight has turned away. Life is back to its regular routine.
“I think there’s a new normal. What that is — what the definition of a new normal is — we are more cautious as a community,” Sheriff Chris Fitzgerald said.
Nearly 365 days ago, the very definition of normal was shattered forever.
“Originally getting the call of two deceased people — which is a major thing in itself — of James and Denise, then learning there should have been a girl at the house that was now missing,” Fitzgerald said.
In the nearly three-month long search that followed, dozens of investigators from across the state and the country ran on hope — and not much else.
“We were out there for 88 days doing one thing and that’s trying to find the girl,” Fitzgerald said.
During his 12 years as Sheriff, Fitzgerald has responded to just 10 murders. The Closs case led to his first ever Amber Alert and a lot of national attention.
“I still haven’t wrapped my head around how big of a case this was,” Fitzgerald said.
Although this story has a happy ending, the horror of what a now 22-year-old man did remains. Jake Patterson will spend the rest of his life in prison. Shortly after he was sentenced, he was transferred from a Wisconsin jail to one in New Mexico out of safety concerns.
Despite the fact that Jayme rescued herself, Fitzgerald believes there is nothing he would change from an investigation standpoint.
“We brought Jayme home and we got the conviction,” he said. “That was the goal of our team from day one.”
He won’t comment on whether or not authorities have been called about anyone trying to meet Jayme or get in contact with her since she’s been back home.
“That feeling we all felt when she came home is this powerful message that I want to take forward here,” Fitzgerald said.
What he wants to take forward is the courage of a 13-year-old girl and that the power of hope has no end.
Jayme now lives with her aunt. Back in May, Jayme said while she lost her parents and home, the unthinkable events did not break her spirit. She said she wants to do great things with her life.
WCCO’s Mary McGuire also reached out to the Barron Area School District about how the community has healed since Jayme’s kidnapping and miraculous return. Superintendent Diane Tremblay declined an interview, but wanted to share the following statement:
“Our simple message is our Golden Bears are off to a GREAT start to the school year and we look forward to all the promise and excitement that a new year brings.”