After 88 days, girl and her small town can start heal­ing

USA TODAY US Edition - - FRONT PAGE - Rory Lin­nane Mil­wau­kee Jour­nal Sen­tinel USA TO­DAY NET­WORK-WIS­CON­SIN

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 such as 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 worked to re­main op­ti­mistic that de­spite long

odds, Jayme would come home. Stu­dents and teach­ers wore green rib­bons to school, lit up a tree of hope, snug­gled with ther­apy dogs and held con­certs.

Thurs­day, Jayme es­caped a house in Gor­don where au­thor­i­ties said she’d been held cap­tive by the kid­nap­per who killed her par­ents. De­spite the har­row­ing de­tails sure to come, the peo­ple who never gave up hope 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.”

Trem­blay knows there will be hard work ahead. She changed her mind about the out­siders who vis­ited Bar­ron, who 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 mid­cri­sis,” Gay said. “It’s in­cred­i­bly help­ful to have some clear heads, fresh eyes and trusted re­la­tion­ships.”

When Jayme van­ished, Safe and Sound Schools tapped its net­work to as­sem­ble a team of six ex­perts to ad­vise the dis­trict. One of the first rec­om­men­da­tions was to bring in dogs from the Wausau Po­lice Depart­ment to pro­vide ther­a­peu­tic cud­dles for stu­dents.

“There’s tremen­dous value in that,” Trem­blay said. “I wouldn’t have thought of that. It wasn’t in the tool­box.”

It’s too soon to say whether or when Jayme will re­turn to Riverview Mid­dle School, but Trem­blay wants to be ready for it – “if we are lucky enough to have that child in the hall­ways,” she said.

“She’s a loyal friend, a sweet­heart to have in the class­room, the kid ev­ery teacher wants in the front row,” Trem­blay said.

For Jayme, ex­perts said, the first step will be find­ing a new sense of nor­malcy, rou­tine and se­cu­rity with the help of fam­ily. Sup­port­ers set up a fundrais­ing page to help them.

“This is as hor­rific a trauma as any child could ex­pe­ri­ence,” said Dim­itri To­pitzes, who teaches trauma coun­sel­ing at the Univer­sity of Wis­con­sin-Mil­wau­kee. He 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 Mil­wau­kee-based or­ga­ni­za­tion that pro­vides so­cial and be­hav­ioral health ser­vices.

Walschin­ski said it’s com­mon for trauma vic­tims to be on high alert, to have trou­ble eat­ing and sleep­ing reg­u­larly and to be trig­gered by cer­tain scents or sounds that re­mind them of the event. She said it will be a chal­lenge to find a bal­ance be­tween mak­ing sure Jayme has the sup­port she needs while al­low­ing her to feel nor­mal.

“Think­ing about all the in­ti­mate de­tails that will be shared, that’s so hard for a 13-year-old,” Walschin­ski said. “There’s go­ing to come a time where she’ll want to be a typ­i­cal teen and not be treated dif­fer­ently than other teens.”

Trem­blay is think­ing about how to pre­pare stu­dents for greet­ing Jayme in a way that isn’t over­whelm­ing.

“We don’t want the kids un­com­fort­able,” Trem­blay said. “We’ll have to talk about what to ask, what not to ask. And con­tinue to keep our pulse on the kids.”

She wants to do ev­ery­thing at Jayme’s pace.

“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.

“What else would the kid ever have to con­quer more chal­leng­ing than what she just did? We’re so happy she’s home.”


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

Michele Gay

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