Missing teen Jayme Closs found alive three months after her parents were slain, police say

In a wooded outpost of northwestern Wisconsin, a slender girl with matted hair and shoes too big for her feet appeared late Thursday afternoon at the door of Kristin Kasinskas, a teacher at a nearby school.

The young girl was accompanied by a neighbor, who told Kasinskas: "This is Jayme Closs! Call 911!"

With that command, reported the Minneapolis Star Tribune, a months-long manhunt came to a dramatic finish. A suspect in the case is now in custody.

The 13-year-old girl had been missing for three months after her parents were found dead in October; but she had fled her captor and sought help from a woman walking her dog east of Gordon, Wis., a tiny town about 65 miles north of the Closs family home in Barron, Wis.

FILE - In this Oct. 23, 2018, file photo, a Barron County, Wis., sheriff's vehicle is parked outside the home where James Closs and Denise Closs were found fatally shot on Oct. 15. The Barron County Sheriff's Department said on its Facebook page that the missing teenager Jayme Closs has been found alive Thursday, Jan. 10, 2019, and that a suspect was taken into custody. (AP Photo/Jeff Baenen, File)

The neighbor, who was not named, told the newspaper that she thought she recognized the girl, whose photograph was plastered across the state. When Jayme gave her name, the two raced to the nearest home to seek help.

The teenager spent 20 minutes inside the Kasinskas home, declining both food and water. She met the teacher's new puppy, Penny, and told the Gordon residents she didn't know where she was, or anything about the town.

Authorities announced Jayme's discovery Thursday evening, noting that the teen had been found at 4:43 p.m. in Gordon and that a suspect had been taken into custody about 10 minutes later.

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

Jayme's aunt, Jen Smith, told ABC's "Good Morning America" that when she heard 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. Smith 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.

The sheriff's department was at the center of an investigation that grew to include local, state and federal investigators. Tips poured in as the girl's name rose to the top of the FBI's missing persons list. Authorities offered $50,000 for her recovery.

A corps of volunteers, at one point numbering 2,000 people, searched rural Barron for the girl, whose disappearance, and the grisly death of her parents, shocked the northwestern Wisconsin community of about 3,300. James Closs, 56, and Denise Closs, 46, had worked at the local turkey plant.

A mysterious 911 call, placed around 1 a.m. on Oct. 15, led police to the family home.

The front door had been kicked in, and the parents were found dead from gunshot wounds. There was no gun found on the scene, and police discovered no obvious motive.

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

FILE - In this Oct. 23, 2018, file photo, volunteers cross a creek and barbed wire near Barron, Wis., on their way to a ground search for 13-year-old Jayme Closs who was discovered missing Oct. 15 after her parents were found fatally shot at their home. Wisconsin authorities are scaling back their ground search for Closs, saying their investigation into her abduction is entering a new phase. Incoming tips have declined, so authorities are transitioning from a round-the-clock reactive operation to a more methodical investigative approach. (AP Photo/Jeff Baenen, File)

"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 on Oct. 17.

The sheriff added, "Here in Barron County, we all know that these things just don't happen here."

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

"There was rumors 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."

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

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

A cousin, Seara Closs, took to social media to share her relief, tweeting: "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 everyone one of you for posting and sharing and contributing to the search of my cousin Jayme Closs!!!! Thank you so much everyone!!!! I love you all."

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

“Jayme is an example of why we never lose hope and never stop searching,” the organization said on Facebook.

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