(Reuters) – Police in Wisconsin on Friday charged a 21-year-old unemployed man with kidnapping a 13-year-old girl and murdering her parents, the morning after she escaped three months of captivity and was found by a woman walking her dog.
The teenager, missing since her parents were found shot dead in their home in October, was discovered dirty and malnourished in Gordon, Wisconsin, about 60 miles (100 km) north of her hometown of Barron.
Her escape ended an 88-day-mystery over her disappearance that galvanized about 1,500 people, close to half the population of her hometown of 3,400, to join in searches. They included wooded areas in suburban Minneapolis, about 90 miles (145 km) west of Gordon.
Jake Patterson was charged with two counts of first-degree murder and one count of kidnapping, Barron County Sheriff Chris Fitzgerald told reporters at a news conference on Friday.
Police pulled his car over on Thursday after Closs gave authorities a description of her captor’s vehicle.
Closs managed to escape from the home where she was confined, a feat that Fitzgerald called “unthinkable.”
“That is the will of a kid to survive,” he said.
Patterson is unemployed and has no criminal record in Wisconsin, authorities said. The sheriff said he was not sure whether Patterson and Closs knew each other.
Closs appeared to have been the “only target” of the crime, Fitzgerald said.
Closs stayed in a hospital overnight for evaluation and was speaking with federal and state investigators on Friday and medical professionals before she was to be reunited with relatives.
“I just cried … lots of happy tears,” Jen Smith, the girl’s aunt, told ABC’s “Good Morning America” program, when the Barron County Sheriff informed her that Jayme had been found alive.
The woman walking her dog who encountered Closs took her to a neighbor’s house so they could call authorities. Both the woman and the neighbor recognized Closs from the massive publicity the case has drawn, authorities said.
In 2017, 99 percent of missing children cases that involved Amber Alerts, like Closs’, were solved, according to the U.S. Justice Department, with only two cases outstanding at the end of the year. The Amber Alert system, launched in 1996, notifies the U.S. public about missing children, with tips relayed to law enforcement agencies.
Of the children found in 2017, 96 percent were recovered within 72 hours of an alert.
It is more common for children missing for longer periods of time to be found, according to Angeline Hartmann, media director at the National Center for Missing and Exploited children.
“This is the reason why we push so hard and ask the public to stay engaged with us, share our posters,” Hartmann said. “It can happen after 87 days, after nine months, or after 18 years.”
Reporting by Rich McKay in Atlanta and Gabriella Borter in New York; Writing by Joseph Ax in New York; Editing by Scott Malone and Jeffrey Benkoe