After 88 days, girl and her town can start healing
After the murder of her parents, 88 days in captivity and an escape that drew the attention of the nation, how does a 13-year-old begin to heal? And how does a small town like Barron recover?
Those questions have drawn experts and resources from around the country to the city of fewer than 4,000 people in northwest Wisconsin since Jayme Closs vanished three months ago.
For 88 days, the community has worked to remain optimistic that despite long odds, Jayme would come home. Students and teachers wore their green ribbons to school, lit up a tree of hope, snuggled with therapy dogs and help concerts.
Her escape Thursday afternoon brought a flood of joy and validation. Despite the harrowing details sure to come, those around her are resolute.
“I’m told that the kiddo woke up smiling,” said Diane Tremblay, superintendent of Barron Area School District, who met with Jayme’s family Saturday morning. “We were all talking about the courage Jayme showed everyone and the impact she’s had on the nation.”
Of course, Tremblay knows there will be hard work ahead. She has changed her mind about the outsiders who’ve visited Barron, who’ve called and emailed with advice. At first it seemed intrusive. She had done the training and knew how to handle crises.
“I was a little uncomfortable with it,” Tremblay said. “But once I realized there’s no manual for this type of crisis, I dropped that mama bear thing and said ‘OK, let’s let these people take a look at what’s going on.’ ”
One of those people was Michele Gay. She lost her 7-year-old daughter, Josephine, six years ago in the mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut. A group she co-founded, Safe and Sound Schools, helps districts prepare for and respond to crises.
“One of the things we know all too well is it’s very difficult to think clearly and attend to the important details mid-crisis,” Gay said. “It’s incredibly helpful to have some clear heads, fresh eyes and trusted relationships.”
It’s too soon to say whether or when Jayme will return to Riverview Middle School. But Tremblay wants to be ready for it.
“She’s a loyal friend, a sweetheart to have in the classroom, the kid every teacher wants in the front row,” Tremblay said.
“Dimitri Topitzes, who teaches trauma counseling at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, said Jayme will need time with family who can “shower her with affection, love and safety.”
Adrianne Walschinski, who oversees outpatient mental health services at SaintA, said safe relationships are the most vital component of healing from trauma. SaintA is a Milwaukeebased organization that provides social and behavioral health services.
Tremblay wants to do everything at Jayme’s pace. But she is excited to celebrate with an event in Jayme’s honor.
“She’s a hero,” Tremblay said. “The mission of our district is for kids to reach their dreams and make a positive impact, and this kid has made a positive impact on the world already. We’ve been talking about hope, love and prayers for 88 days.
After escaping captivity, Jayme Closs was reunited with her aunt, Jennifer Smith, and her dog.