Jayme Closs was missing for 88 days after her parents were shot dead in northwest Wisconsin. After her disappearance on Oct. 15, Hormel Foods, a Fortune 500 company based in Minnesota, doubled the reward promised by the FBI for information leading to her safe return.
Now, the 13-year-old girl who freed herself will receive $25,000 in reward money.
The girl’s parents had worked for a local turkey plant operated by Jennie-O Turkey Store, which is a Hormel subsidiary. As the community reeled from news of the disappearance, a manhunt involving local, state and federal authorities drew thousands of tips and inspired volunteers to participate in a massive ground search. Jayme’s image was plastered across the state, and her visage became known nationwide.
The 13-year-old went unseen until Jan. 10, when she appeared in a wooded area about an hour north of Barron, Wis., her hometown. She freed herself from a cabin in Gordon, Wis., where authorities said she had been held by Jake Patterson, 21, who has been charged with first-degree murder and kidnapping.
Jayme approached a woman walking her dog. The woman rushed her to a nearby home, where seeing the young girl was “like seeing a ghost,” according to the local couple who answered the door. They called 911.
The couple said they had no interest in the reward money, raising the question: Who would reap the financial benefit from Jayme’s discovery? Barron County Sheriff Chris Fitzgerald, who was at the center of the investigation, called Jayme the “hero in the case,” suggesting that if the money were to be distributed, the victim herself was owed a share.
That was the conclusion reached by Jim Snee, Hormel’s CEO. The FBI has not said what the agency plans to do with the $25,000 it pledged in the case.
“On behalf of the entire Jennie-O and Hormel Foods family, we are overjoyed at the news of Jayme’s safe return,” Snee said in a statement on Wednesday. “Her bravery and strength have truly inspired our team members around the world. Barron is an incredibly strong community and one that never lost hope. We celebrated with the community, and the world, that Jayme is home.”
Steve Lykken, the president of Jennie-O Turkey Store, said he hoped that the money would go into a trust fund supporting “Jayme’s needs today and in the future.”
“While we are still mourning the loss of longtime family members Jim and Denise, we are so thankful for Jayme’s brave escape and that she is back in Barron,” Lykken said.
Jayme’s aunts and other family members celebrated her safe return this month.