Jayme Closs' Neighbor, Who Heard the Shots That Killed Her Parents, Is 'Relieved' She's Safe

The neighbor who heard the gunshots that stole the lives of Wisconsin teen Jayme Closs’ parents is thrilled that she was found alive nearly three months after she went missing.

“All I can say is it’s a cry for joy,” Jayme’s neighbor, Barron resident Tom Smrekar, tells PEOPLE. “It’s been a terrible time. Now everybody is thrilled. Everybody is relieved.”

Smrekar joined Closs’ extended family — and the nation — in rejoicing when he learned that the courageous 13-year-old had escaped Thursday from a remote cabin in Gordon, about 70 miles north of her hometown, where she had allegedly been held by Jake Patterson, 21, who police say fatally shot her parents.

Courtesy of Jennifer Halvorson
Jennifer Halvorson

Police announced on Friday that they’d arrested Patterson and charged him with two counts of first-degree intentional homicide and one count of kidnapping.

He’s scheduled to appear in court on Monday to enter a plea. It’s unclear if he has retained a lawyer who can comment on his behalf.

Barron County Sheriff's Dept

Jayme disappeared the night of Oct. 15 — the same day her parents, Denise, 46, and James Closs, 56, were found dead in their home.

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Declared “missing and endangered,” an AMBER Alert was issued for her as thousands of people joined investigators in their search for her.

Jayme was rescued Thursday around 4 p.m. when she fled her alleged captor’s cabin, racing out of the woods and asking Jeanne Nutter, who was out walking her dog, for help.

Immediately recognizing the thin, disheveled girl as the teen who had been missing, Nutter rushed her to the nearby home of neighbor Kristin and Peter Kasinskas, saying, “‘This is Jayme Closs! Call 911!”” the pair recalled to the Star Tribune.

Jayme’s rescue answers some of the many questions Smrekar and his wife have about the night of Oct. 15, when they were woken at about 12:31 a.m. by the sound of two loud shots.

Two Dead-Child Missing
Jerry Holt/Star Tribune/ AP

“We knew it was a gun going off,” he says.

They had no idea the gunfire they heard had killed their neighbors, whose house is next door but about “a city block” away, says Smrekar, who didn’t know the Closses well and would sometimes see Jayme getting off the school bus.

“It wasn’t that far from hunting season,” he says. “We thought somebody was shooting at a coyote or a bear. Around here, it’s not uncommon.”

Darkness sank in once the Smrekars and the community learned that the couple had been murdered by an unknown assailant — and that their daughter was missing.

“Everybody was afraid,” he says. “Now everybody is feeling a lot of relief.”

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