Af­ter 88 days, girl and her town can start heal­ing

USA TODAY International Edition - - NEWS - Rory Lin­nane

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 flood 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 first 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 difficult 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 affec­tion, 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.

JENNIFER SMITH

Af­ter es­cap­ing cap­tiv­ity, Jayme Closs was re­united with her aunt, Jennifer Smith, and her dog.

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