BARRON, Wis. – Family members of Jayme Closs broke their silence at a news conference Wednesday, facing a sea of media cameras to promise the missing 13-year-old, “We will never stop looking for you.”
In an emotional plea for her safe return, Jayme’s aunt spoke as her sister, Susie Allard, stood by her side cuddling Jayme’s fluffy lap dog.
“Your family and friends miss you so much,” Jennifer Smith said of the teen, whose Oct. 15 disappearance has prompted a nationwide search. “Your sparkling eyes, your bright smile. … Your dog, Molly, is waiting for you. She’s been sleeping in one of your sweatshirts.”
Smith and Allard are sisters of Jayme’s mother, Denise, 46, who along with Jayme’s father, James Closs, 56, was shot to death Oct. 15 in their home outside Barron. Investigators believe Jayme was home at the time, but she had disappeared by the time deputies arrived four minutes after a 911 call from the house. They consider her “endangered.”
Also at the news conference, Justin Tolomeo, special agent in charge of the FBI’s Milwaukee office, announced a $25,000 reward for information leading to Jayme’s whereabouts.
No one has been arrested in the couple’s killing or Jayme’s disappearance, and little new information was offered Wednesday. Photos of the smiling girl have been shared nationwide, from truck stops to billboards, but Barron County Sheriff Chris Fitzgerald said “no items of evidentiary value” have been found. He pleaded anew for anyone with information to call authorities.
Two hundred law enforcement officers are working around the clock on the case, yet Fitzgerald acknowledged that investigators are no closer to identifying a suspect 10 days into the investigation.
Residents in this town of 3,300 turned up en masse Tuesday to join in search efforts of nearby woods and fields for any clues that might help bring Jayme home. Fitzgerald thanked the estimated 2,000 volunteers for what he called an “overwhelming” display of support for one of their own.
Investigators examined more than 1,000 items recovered by searchers, but nothing thought to be related to Jayme was found, he said.
On Wednesday, a new set of agents scavenged the crime scene. Officers could be seen pulling a mattress and other household items from the site behind billowing police tape.
Area businesses such as Duane’s Collision Repair Center along Hwy. 8 are encouraging passing motorists to hold out hope. A lighted sign outside the auto body shop says, “Keep Jayme Closs in your thoughts and prayers.” Other local establishments are pasting posters with Jayme’s information in their shop windows.
More than 1,500 tips have poured in from around the country, and authorities have investigated and closed more than 1,250 of them. Still, they are seeking more.
“If you were on Highway 8 at the time of the call, early Monday morning, Oct. 15, between 12:30 a.m. and 1:30 a.m., we are asking you to call our tip line,” Fitzgerald said.
The sheriff said he could not say whether the assailants were known to Jayme, but he expressed faith that she is still alive. “We believe Jayme is out there,” he said. “She is in danger and we need to bring a 13-year-old home.”
Investigators have asked the public to watch for vehicles seen in the area about the time of the crimes: a 2008-2014 red or orange Dodge Challenger and a black SUV: either a 2006-2010 Ford Edge or a 2004-2010 Acura MDX.
Anyone with information is asked to call a 24-hour tip line, 1-855-744-3879, or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
A funeral for Denise and James Closs is set for 1 p.m. Saturday in Cameron. Visitation will be from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. at St. Peter’s Catholic Church.
An ‘outpouring of love’
Smith thanked the community for its support of the family, saying, “It was amazing to see the outpouring of love the other night for our sweet Jayme.” She also pleaded for anyone with information to come forward.
“Grandpa needs new artwork for his fridge,” Smith said, reading from a written statement. “Aunt Susie wants to go jogging with you in the park. And I want that girls’ shopping day we planned.”
Both women wore blue and green ribbons pinned to their jackets — like the ones handed out at a community vigil last week. Blue is Jayme’s favorite color, while green denotes awareness for missing children.
“Jayme, we need you here to fill the hole in our hearts,” she said. “We all love you to the moon and back, and we will never stop looking for you.”