A 13-year-old girl held captive for three months by a 21-year-old man charged with murdering her parents should be treated as a hero, the local sheriff says.
Jayme Closs' escape from the rural house in Wisconsin helped break the case, Barron County Sheriff Chris Fitzgerald said.
Jayme was skinny, dishevelled and wearing shoes too big for her when she approached a stranger and pleaded for help on Thursday in the isolated town of Gordon, about 100 km north from her hometown of Barron.
"She just yelled, 'Please help me! I don't know where I am! I'm lost!"' said Jeanne Nutter, who had been walking her dog.
"I was terrified, but I didn't want to show her that."
Nutter took her to the nearby home of Peter and Kristin Kasinskas.
Jayme told the couple she had been held captive in a cabin and didn't know where she was or anything about Gordon.
"She said that this person's name was Jake Patterson, 'he killed my parents and took me,"' Kristin Kasinskas said. "She did not talk about why or how. She said she did not know him."
Thousands of volunteers and hundreds of law enforcement officers had been searching around the clock for her after her parents were found shot dead in their home, the front door open and the girl gone.
Both the woman and the neighbour recognised the teen immediately on Thursday due to the enormous public campaign following her disappearance, Fitzgerald said.
Less than 15 minutes later, Jake Thomas Patterson was in custody after police pulled over his vehicle, based on Closs' description.
The 21-year-old was apparently out looking for his escaped captive.
"Jayme is the hero in this case. She's the one who helped us break this case," Fitzgerald said.
Patterson, an unemployed resident of Gordon, was charged on Friday with kidnapping and with murdering James and Denise Closs with a shotgun. Their bodies were discovered on October 15.
"Jayme was the target," said Fitzgerald. "The suspect had specific intentions to kidnap Jayme and went to great lengths to prepare to take her."
He said there is no evidence Patterson knew Jayme or her family or had been in contact with her on social media.
"I know all of you are searching for the answer why any of this happened," Fitzgerald said. "Believe me, so are we."
More than 200 law enforcement officials were on the ground day and night following Closs' disappearance, sifting through thousands of tips but finding little to go on.
The search stretched across cornfields and wooded areas and drew 1500 volunteers - nearly half as many people as the entire 3400-person population of Barron, which sits about 145 km northeast of Minneapolis.
Closs was reunited with her extended family later on Friday after spending a night in the hospital for evaluation.
Jen Smith, the girl's aunt, posted of them together with her dog Molly.
The superintendent of the local school district, Jean Serum, said Patterson was a quiet student who was a member of his high school's quiz bowl team. He graduated in 2015.
About 350 people under the age of 21 are kidnapped by strangers in the United States each year, according to FBI data.
With Associated Press
Australian Associated Press