BARRON COUNTY, Wis. — Nearly one year from the day Jayme Closs walked away from her captor and found freedom, Barron County Sheriff Chris Fitzgerald says she is "just being a kid."
Fitzgerald sat down with KARE sister station WEAU to look back on the case that took over the lives of many people in Barron County, Wisconsin for months.
Jayme Closs was kidnapped and her parents, James and Denise, were killed on Oct. 15, 2018. That was the beginning of an 88-day ordeal that for Jayme, meant captivity at the hands of Jake Patterson, who is now serving life in prison for his crimes. For Fitzgerald, it meant long days and nights working to solve the case.
He remembers vividly the moment he found out that Jayme had escaped on her own. He was on the phone with the Walworth County sheriff, ironically, trying to get to the bottom of a false tip that Jayme had been found there.
"At the same time I’m talking to the Walworth County sheriff, my detective runs back in and says, 'Hang up the phone right now,'" Fitzgerald said. "He said, 'We have Jayme Closs.'"
RELATED: Jayme Closs case file released
Fitzgerald thought both tips were pranks. But the detective informed him that the patrol officers in Douglas County said they had located Jayme.
"I said, 'You guys get in the car, you drive to Douglas County, when you guys get your hand on her let me know and don’t ever let her go,'" Fitzgerald recalled with a laugh.
In talking with WEAU, Fitzgerald addressed one detail that emerged when the Closs case file was released: Dash cam video that appears to show Patterson's car passing a deputy on a deserted Highway 8 as they responded to the scene that October night.
If they could do it again, Fitzgerald said, "Obviously we’d go to the car that drove by the scene, and our deputies second guessing themselves that they should have stopped that car."
But, Fitzgerald said, they didn't realize they were going to the scene of a kidnapping - and it wasn't uncommon to see a car on Highway 8. He also pointed out what Patterson told police he would have done if he had encountered law enforcement that night.
"Mr. Patterson said he probably would have had a shootout with us and we don’t know where that would have taken us," Fitzgerald said.
In the end? "She's the hero," he said.
And what Jayme's family wants the public to remember, he said, is that many more kids are still missing.
"And that’s the point that we want to make, and I know the family wants to make, because they don’t want it to be about them," he said.
Jayme's case, Fitzgerald said, has changed the way detectives think about missing children.
"There’s a new feeling in law enforcement, not just in Barron County, but all over, that you never give up. Because that case is one tip away."
Fitzgerald said he doesn't see Jayme regularly but he knows that one year later, "she’s doing what every 14-year-old kid is doing and that’s just being a kid."
Jayme has been singing in choir and running cross country, he said.
"I think she’ll talk someday about this, I would assume," Fitzgerald said. "And if she doesn’t, that’s her story to tell."
And will he remain close with the Closs family?
"It’s a special bond, it’ll always be there, and if Jayme needs something we’ll make it happen," he said. "It’s always on Jayme’s time."