BARRON, Wis. – Jayme Closs spent the summer with her family and friends, hiking through state parks and taking other day trips, and celebrating family weddings and birthdays, including turning 14 herself.
The teenager now known around the country for brave efforts to free herself from the stranger who had abducted her and murdered her parents one year ago is feeling "stronger every day," she said in a statement read by a family attorney the day before the anniversary of her kidnapping.
Closs said she wanted to "thank everyone for all the kindness and concern that people all over the country have shown me," according to the statement read by attorney Chris Gramstrup at a news conference here Monday. "I'm very happy to be home and getting back to the activities that I enjoy. I love hanging out with all my friends and I feel stronger every day."
Closs, who endured 88 days in captivity before escaping from a cabin in the woods some 70 miles from her home, has opened her heart and entrusted people around her, Gramstrup added.
"She's a very social young woman and she really enjoys reconnecting and being with her good friends," he said. "She continues to work very, very hard on her emotional well-being. She's moving forward courageously and she's reclaiming her life."
Instead of making the anniversary solely about Jayme though, authorities here used it to highlight the plight of other children who are sill missing.
Barron County Sheriff Chris Fitzgerald and other investigators and advocates stood next to a poster board with photos of 40 other missing children in Wisconsin.
"As adults in this world ... we need to make sure that kids out there know that no matter what the circumstances are, that someone out there cares about them. We care about them," Fitzgerald said as he praised his community's outpouring of effort to find Closs. "I saw and felt the power of good, and we need to take that good and do so much more with it."
Family members of Sara Bushland, who disappeared at age 15 after getting off a school bus in Spooner, Wis., in 1996, stood among them to remind the world that they are still searching for her.
Jayme's photo appearing on billboards and in the media helped bring her to safety quickly when Jayme approached a woman walking her dog and that woman recognized her and took her to a nearby home to call police. Bushland's sister Lesley Small said other children need the same attention. "We need that for Sara," she said.
"We know that someone out there knows something," said Mike Bushland, Sara's father. "We need them to step up and give us a helping hand."
Closs' case gripped the nation not only during the time she was missing, but also for weeks after she escaped the cabin where her abductor had kept her and sometimes hid her under a bed blocked off with plastic tubs and weights.
He pleaded guilty in March to kidnapping Jayme after shooting and killing James and Denise Closs in the dark of an October morning at their home on the outskirts of Barron. He was sentenced to life in prison.
Authorities said he told them that he picked Jayme at random after seeing her board a school bus while he headed to work one morning last fall. He didn't know her name or anybody at her house, but he told authorities that he knew he wanted to take her.
Shortly before 1 a.m. on Oct. 15, he returned to the Closs house, shooting James Closs at the front door and then Denise Closs, who was barricaded in the bathroom with Jayme.
He then grabbed Jayme and threw her in the trunk of his car, driving north to his family's cabin outside Gordon, where he kept her while thousands of volunteers searched, put up posters and ribbons and prayed for her safe return.
She escaped after he left her alone the afternoon of Jan. 10.
At the news conference Monday, Fitzgerald recognized 10 leaders in the investigation with small trophies depicting a law enforcement officer and a small child. An 11th trophy will be in a display case on behalf of all the others involved, he said.
Investigators pored over 32,000 reports in the case and nearly 700 pieces of evidence, Fitzgerald said, and they never gave up hope of finding Jayme.
Robert Lowery, vice president of the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, said success stories like Jayme's motivate people in his organization.
In a five-year period that the center examined, 5,000 children were recovered after they were missing for more than six months, Lowery said. Of those, 444 had been missing more than five years.
"It does demonstrate we should never stop looking for these kids," Lowery said.
Fitzgerald urged communities to come together like his did to look out for one another more.
"Let's go take that energy, move it forward. Let's do something positive," Fitzgerald said. "Let's bring some more kids home. That's what today is about."
Pam Louwagie • 612-673-7102