(Reuters) – A 13-year-old Wisconsin girl, missing since her parents were discovered fatally shot three months ago, was to be reunited with her family on Friday, the day after she was found malnourished and dirty after apparently fleeing her captor.
Police said they had a man in custody in connection with the disappearance of Jayme Closs and the murder of her parents, James, 56, and Denise, 46, whose bodies were found in their home on Oct. 15.
“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 girl’s disappearance in October made national news and stunned her hometown of Barron, Wisconsin, population 3,400, about 90 miles east of Minneapolis and sparked massive searches with 1,500 volunteers scouring woods and fields in suburban Minneapolis. A $25,000 reward was offered for her safe return.
Closs was found by a resident of the town of Gordon, about 60 miles (100 km) north of Barron, after the child knocked on her door, the Minneapolis Star Tribune newspaper reported. The paper described her as skinny and dirty with matted hair and wearing shoes that did not fit.
“This is Jayme Closs! Call 911!” said a neighbor who recognized the child, according to the paper. She was taken to a local hospital.
“‘She’s talking, she’s doing very well,’ they said,” Smith told “Good Morning America,” referring to the authorities. Smith said she would see Closs on Friday afternoon.
Late Thursday, Barron County Sheriff Chris Fitzgerald said Jayme had been found in Gordon, but he had few other details.
“We promised to bring Jayme home and tonight we get to fulfill that promise,” Fitzgerald said in a statement, thanking the community.
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 were outstanding at the end of the year. The Amber Alert system, launched in 1996, notifies the U.S. public about missing children so tips can be relayed to law enforcement agencies.
Of the children found in 2017, 96 percent were recovered within 72 hours of the alert.
But it is becoming 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 9 months, or after 18 years.”
Reporting by Rich McKay in Atlanta and Gabriella Borter in New York; Editing by Scott Malone and Jeffrey Benkoe