Ex- vic­tims: Jayme needs time to heal

Connecticut Post (Sunday) - - News -

Katie Beers’ joy quickly turned to deep con­cern when she learned 13- year- old Jayme Closs had been found alive in ru­ral Wis­con­sin nearly three months af­ter po­lice say a man shot and killed her par­ents then ab­ducted the girl from their home.

“She is go­ing to have to grieve the loss of her par­ents and also come to terms with the fact she was ab­ducted, es­caped and what­ever ( other) hell she went through,” said Beers. “And it’s not go­ing to be easy.”

Beers knows that bet­ter than most.

Sun­day will mark 26 years since a then- 10- year- old Beers was res­cued from an un­der­ground con­crete bunker in Bay Shore, N. Y., where she had been held cap­tive for more than two weeks by a fam­ily friend who had lured her to his home with the prom­ise of birth­day presents.

As Jayme be­gins to process her trauma, ex­perts and for­mer vic­tims say what she needs most is space and time to dis­cuss it on her own terms. And with the help of a sup­port­ive and un­der­stand­ing fam­ily, she likely will be able to re­cover and live a happy life.

“One of the things that helped me re­cover so quickly is that no­body forced me to talk about what hap­pened,” said Beers, 36, who is mar­ried and has two chil­dren. “I didn’t even do in­ter­views un­til I was 30. I didn’t have to re­live it ev­ery day.”

Au­thor­i­ties said Jayme was skinny, di­sheveled and wear­ing shoes too big for her when she ap­proached a stranger and pleaded for help Thurs­day in the small north woods town of Gor­don, about 60 miles from her home­town of Bar­ron. Jake Thomas Pat­ter­son, 21, was quickly ar­rested and jailed on kid­nap­ping and homi­cide charges.

It’s un­clear ex­actly what Jayme ex­pe­ri­enced — in­clud­ing whether she was co­erced with threats or phys­i­cally abused — so peo­ple must be care­ful how they in­ter­act with her, said Duane Bow­ers, a trauma ther­a­pist who works with fam­i­lies of miss­ing and ex­ploited chil­dren and adults.

Al­though friends and fam­ily might be eager to know de­tails, the only con­trol the vic­tim has is when, to whom and how they tell their story, Bow­ers said, adding that’s es­pe­cially true of Jayme, who has lost so much.

For most child kid­nap­ping vic­tims, they have the hope that their par­ents will find them, “but in this case she knew her folks were dead and couldn’t find her,” Bow­ers said. So now, “she needs to feel … in con­trol and ex­pe­ri­ence her mem­o­ries in a way that … doesn’t re­trig­ger” her trauma.

El­iz­a­beth Smart, who was 14 when she was kid­napped at knife­point from her Salt Lake City home in 2002, told The As­so­ci­ated Press that ev­ery­one en­dures dif­fer­ent men­tal and psy­cho­log­i­cal trauma af­ter kid­nap­pings, but Jayme will have to con­front the fact that there “is no go­ing back to the way things were.”

“Prob­a­bly one of the more dif­fi­cult is­sues is go­ing to be find­ing that new sense of nor­malcy in her life,” said Smart, a 31- year- old mother of three. “Not recre­at­ing the old but ( cre­at­ing) the new and learn­ing to be OK with that.”

She cau­tioned ques­tions that might seem harm­less could be hurt­ful.

Smart said she would get de­fen­sive when peo­ple asked her why she didn’t run or scream when her cap­tors some­times trav­eled with her out in the open. Smart was found nine months af­ter her dis­ap­pear­ance while walk­ing with her kid­nap­pers in a Salt Lake City sub­urb by peo­ple who rec­og­nized the cou­ple from me­dia re­ports.

As an adult she re­al­ized they didn’t mean any harm, she said.

“My brain heard that ques­tion as: ‘ You should have tried harder. You should have run, you should have yelled, this is some­how your fault,’ ” Smart said. “So, I would just cau­tion her com­mu­nity and any­one able to in­ter­act with her to re­ally think about the ques­tions they are ask­ing her.”

Beers and Smart said they are proof that trauma sur­vivors can go on to live happy and ful­fill­ing lives.

“It’s never go­ing to be easy, but with the cor­rect sup­port, the cor­rect peo­ple to talk to and peo­ple there who love you, she’s go­ing to be able to sur­vive and thrive,” said Beers, who was raised by a fos­ter fam­ily af­ter her res­cue be­cause of abuse she had suf­fered within her own fam­ily be­fore the kid­nap­ping.

“They just sur­rounded me with love and gave me a nor­mal home and that to me … was the most im­por­tant thing,” Beers said.

It won’t hap­pen quickly, though, Bow­ers said, and peo­ple need to re­al­ize that Jayme will re­live her trauma in dif­fer­ent ways through­out her life — in­clud­ing if she forms ro­man­tic re­la­tion­ships or has chil­dren of her own.

“Peo­ple tend to think, ‘ OK, it’s been a year now, you should be fine,’ ” Bow­ers said. “You might learn to cope and deal with it, but it will never go away.”

He said it’s also im­por­tant for Jayme to know that “any­thing you’re think­ing and feel­ing is nor­mal. Don’t be afraid of it; don’t think there’s some­thing wrong with you. … You’re not the bad guy here.”

Smart said she would tell Jayme that “she is a sur­vivor and she is a hero. She’s in­cred­i­bly strong and in­cred­i­bly brave and there’s so many peo­ple who love her and are in awe of her and who want to help her and sup­port her in any way.

“And I would tell her that this ex­pe­ri­ence might feel like it’s defin­ing, it might feel like that’s who she is now, but it doesn’t have to be,” Smart said.

Con­trib­uted photo via AP

This Fri­day photo shows Jayme Closs, right, with her aunt, Jennifer Smith, in Bar­ron, Wis.

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