A 13-year-old Wisconsin girl, missing since her parents were discovered shot dead in their home three months ago, has been found, malnourished and dirty but alive, after apparently fleeing her captor in a remote community.
A man, who has not been identified by police, is now in custody in connection with the case of James Closs, 56, and his wife Denise, 46, whose bodies were found on 15 October at their home near Barron, a town of 3,300 in north-western Wisconsin.
Their daughter Jayme, who authorities believe was at home during the shooting, has been missing since police responded to a “mysterious” 911 call just before 1am that day.
No one spoke, authorities said, but “a lot of yelling” could be heard in the background. Police arrived just four minutes later to find the door kicked in, two bodies shot dead and the family dog. No gun or suspects were at the scene and Jayme was nowhere to be found.
Her disappearance sparked massive searches, with 2,000 volunteers scouring woods and fields in suburban Minneapolis, and the offer of a $25,000 (£20,000) reward for her safe return.
The 13-year-old was found around 4pm this Thursday by a resident of the town of Gordon, about an hour’s drive from the Closs home, who was out walking her dog. Jayme, described as skinny and dirty with matted hair and wearing shoes too big for her feet, approached the woman, telling her her name and said she needed help, the Minneapolis Star Tribune reported.
The woman then accompanied Jayme to a nearby house so they could call the authorities.
The house owner, Peter Kasinskas, described Jayme as quiet and “pretty flat”. The teenager was offered food and water, which she refused.
“I honestly still think I’m dreaming right now. It was like I was seeing a ghost,” Kasinskas told reporters. “It was scary and awesome at the same time. My jaw just went to the floor.”
The exact details of the child’s escape were not released, but from what Jayme told the people who found her, it is believed she was in Gordon for most of her disappearance.
Police said a 21-year-old suspect had been taken into custody. Late on Thursday, investigators blocked all streets leading to a cabin believed to belong to the suspect, according to the Star Tribune.
In a statement, the sheriff of Barron County, Chris Fitzgerald, announced Jayme had been found in Gordon and thanked the community for delivering Jayme to safety.
“We promised to bring Jayme home and tonight we get to fulfil that promise,” said Fitzgerald. “A suspect was taken into custody. We do not have any other details at this time as this is a very fluid and active investigation.”
Jayme was taken to a nearby hospital for treatment, but her condition was not immediately clear, with the sheriff asking the media and public to respect the family’s privacy.
Sue Allard, Jayme’s aunt, told the Star Tribune that she could barely express her joy after hearing the news on Thursday night.
“Praise the Lord,” Allard said between sobs. “It’s the news we’ve been waiting on for three months. I can’t wait to get my arms around her. I just can’t wait.”
Reuters contributed to this report