In a wooded outpost of northwestern Wisconsin, a slender girl with matted hair and shoes too big for her feet ran out in the freezing cold Thursday and sought help from a woman walking her dog.

The woman rushed the young girl to a nearby home and knocked on the door.

"This is Jayme Closs!" she told the homeowner, Kristin Kasinskas. "Call 911!"

READ MORE:
The bizarre crime story gripping America and baffling police

Advertisement

Soon after, Barron County Sheriff Chris Fitzgerald announced that 13-year-old Jayme Closs - missing since October, when her parents were found slain in their home in Barron, Wisconsin - had been located alive, ending a months-long manhunt after she fled her captor.

"Jayme is safe!" Fitzgerald declared during a news conference Friday morning.

He added: "It's amazing, the will of that 13-year-old girl to survive and escape."

In this Oct. 17, 2018, file photo, Barron County Sheriff Chris Fitzgerald speaks during a news conference about 13-year-old Jayme Closs. Photo / File
In this Oct. 17, 2018, file photo, Barron County Sheriff Chris Fitzgerald speaks during a news conference about 13-year-old Jayme Closs. Photo / File

Authorities said at a news conference that 21-year-old Jake Thomas Patterson had been arrested on two counts of first-degree intentional homicide in the killings of Jayme's parents and one count of kidnapping. Patterson, officials said, "planned his actions" and targeted the teen, and had subsequently taken "proactive steps to avoid detection" as local, state and federal law enforcement agencies looked for him and the missing girl.

By the time Jayme approached the dog walker Thursday, most people who live in the area had undoubtedly seen the teen's photo and heard about what had happened to her parents.

They also knew that she had mysteriously vanished.

Suddenly, she was standing on Kristin and Peter Kasinskas's doorstep.

"I honestly still think I'm dreaming right now. It was like I was seeing a ghost," Kasinskas's husband, Peter, told the Minneapolis Star Tribune. "It was scary and awesome at the same time. My jaw just went to the floor."

It had been nearly three months since Jayme had gone missing from her home in Barron, where her parents were found dead in October. She was found late Thursday afternoon some 105km away from her hometown.

The Star Tribune reported that Jayme was invited inside and offered food and water, which she declined; instead, she played with the neighbours' new puppy, Penny, and waited for police to arrive.

21-year-old Jake Thomas Patterson. Photo / Barron County Sheriff's Department
21-year-old Jake Thomas Patterson. Photo / Barron County Sheriff's Department

Barron County sheriff's department officials said Thursday that the teen had been located at 4:43 p.m. and that, 11 minutes later, Patterson was taken into custody.

"We promised to bring Jayme home and tonight we get to fulfill that promise," Fitzgerald wrote in a Facebook post. "From the bottom of my heart THANK YOU!"

Jeff Closs, Jayme's uncle, told NBC affiliate KARE on Thursday that the teen's return was shocking.

"You're not sure if she's going to be found," he said, "and when you actually hear it, it's just unbelievable. We're all just so grateful and happy. We thought it was going to be a different ending . .. "

Closs said he hopes his niece is OK.

"We don't really know what shape she's in," he told the station. "Or you know, we don't really know a lot, all we know is just she's alive."

Jayme's aunt, Jen Smith, said Friday on ABC's "Good Morning America" that when she heard that her niece had been found alive, "I just cried lots of happy tears. I just wanted to scream very loudly."

Smith said authorities told her that her niece had escaped from her captor and was now safe and resting in a nearby hospital. She said she will be reunited with Jayme on Friday afternoon.

"I'm going to give her the biggest hug and tell her that I'm here for her and that I love her very much," she said on the morning show.

The home where teenager Jayme Closs lived with her parents. Closs, who went missing in October after her parents were found dead, was found alive on Thursday. Photo / AP
The home where teenager Jayme Closs lived with her parents. Closs, who went missing in October after her parents were found dead, was found alive on Thursday. Photo / AP

It all started about 1am on October 15, when police received a mysterious 911 call that led them to Jayme's family home.

The front door had been kicked in and her parents, 56-year-old James Closs and 46-year-old Denise Closs, were found dead from gunshot wounds. There was no gun found at the scene, and police discovered no obvious motive.

Jayme was in the family's home when her parents, Denise and James Closs, were killed. Photos / Supplied
Jayme was in the family's home when her parents, Denise and James Closs, were killed. Photos / Supplied

Jayme was nowhere to be found, and police believed she had been kidnapped. An Amber Alert was issued that afternoon.

"Based on our investigation thus far, we believe Jayme was in the home at the time of the homicides, and we believe she is still in danger," Fitzgerald told reporters at the time. He added that "Here in Barron County, we all know that these things just don't happen here."

Local, state and federal investigators began searching for the teen. Tips poured in as the girl's name rose to the top of the FBI's missing persons list and authorities offered a $50,000 reward for information leading to her recovery.

Volunteers cross a creek and barbed wire near Barron, Wisconsin on their way to a ground search for 13-year-old Jayme Closs in October 2018. Thousands joined the search for the teen. Photo / AP
Volunteers cross a creek and barbed wire near Barron, Wisconsin on their way to a ground search for 13-year-old Jayme Closs in October 2018. Thousands joined the search for the teen. Photo / AP

A corps of volunteers, at one point numbering 2000 people, searched rural Barron for the girl, whose disappearance, and the grisly death of her parents, shocked the Wisconsin community.

Earlier Thursday, authorities had denied reports spreading on social media that Jayme had been found in southeastern Wisconsin after rumours circulated of a large police presence there. Her relatives feared the worst.

"There was rumours earlier today, and I prayed and prayed, and they come to not be true," another aunt, Sue Allard, told CBS affiliate WCCO. "And I just shut myself totally down. I thought today was going to be the day, and then I find out two hours later that she's found, and I just cannot believe this."

The sign outside Barron, Wis., City Hall, Friday, Jan. 11, 2019, welcomes Jayme Closs. Photo / Supplied
The sign outside Barron, Wis., City Hall, Friday, Jan. 11, 2019, welcomes Jayme Closs. Photo / Supplied

When she learned that her niece was, in fact, safe, Allard said, she also cried tears of joy.

"Praise the Lord," she told the Star Tribune about the news.

She is alive and on her way home from the bottom of my heart thank you all for the help!!! I can never repay each and...

Posted by Seara Closs on Thursday, 10 January 2019

A cousin, Seara Closs, took to social media to share her relief.

The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children said it was "overjoyed" that Closs had been found alive.

"Jayme is an example of why we never lose hope and never stop searching," the organisation said on Facebook.

This article was first published on The Washington Post.