BARRON — The best advice Elizabeth Smart had for the Barron community is to leave Jayme Closs alone as she gets adjusted to being home again.
“As Jayme reclaims her life, it’s important to give her space,” Smart told a packed crowd topping 1,000 spectators Friday night at Barron High School. “If you see her, it’s okay to smile, but don’t stare. If you want to talk to her, write her a letter, and let her decide if she wants to read it and respond. As much as (her abduction) has affected everyone in this room, it’s affected Jayme a thousand times more.”
Smart, 31, became famous when she was abducted from her Utah home at age 14 in 2002. Smart was held hostage for about nine months, and her story has been the subject of a handful of TV movies. One of her kidnappers was sentenced to two life terms in federal prison.
Smart has become an activist and advocate for missing persons, and that includes presentations like her 30-minute speech Friday.
Smart spoke about her own abduction, from the day she was kidnapped to the repeated rapes, to her eventual escape and reunification with her family. She said it is up to Jayme if she ever wants to speak of her own experience.
“We should respect her privacy,” Smart said. “And if she does decide to share her story publicly, we will be there on the sidelines, cheering her on. The things she suffered are hers, and hers alone to share.”
People shouldn’t ask Jayme about if she could have done something differently to escape earlier.
“You should never ask a question of ‘why didn’t you,’ because they hear ‘you should have,’” Smart said.
Smart indicated she had been in town a couple of days, and she was awed and impressed by all the signs of support for Jayme that are still up.
“It’s beautiful to see the welcome home signs around town,” Smart said. “But it’s okay to take them down. Jayme will want her anonymity someday.”
Smart delved into her own story, telling the crowd she wanted them to understand what it means to be a victim.
“It was the most terrifying experience of my life,” she said. “When I was kidnapped, it brought a whole new meaning to terror. They told me I was going to be their wife; that I was going to be their slave. If I didn’t do what he wanted, he would go and kill my family.”
The horrors began immediately once she arrived at a camp, which was hidden in a mountainous area, with plenty of supplies. She realized her captors had thought this out well before taking her.
“Within minutes of being brought into the camp, he raped me,” she said. “I wondered if I still had value; if I could be worthy of love.”
Even as she escaped, she struggled to tell law enforcement who she was.
“I didn’t immediately speak out and admit who I was, because I was terrified,” she said.
She was thrilled to go home and see her family, and all her clothes, which suddenly no longer fit. But she had a renewed outlook on life.
“I remember wanting to live every second of my life to the fullest,” she said. “It felt like my life was given back.”
Smart said when she got home, she realized that she couldn’t just go back to being an anonymous teenager.
“I thought I could go back to who I was, before I was kidnapped,” she said. “But I didn’t know that little girl that I was, I couldn’t go back to being her. I came home to a whole different world.”
Instead, when she went out to grocery stores, she saw her face on the cover of magazines. She struggled to go shopping or to movies.
“I couldn’t go anywhere without people recognizing me,” she said. “It’s hard to fall back into that rhythm when it’s constantly interrupted.”
Smart praised law enforcement for keeping Jayme’s story in the media, and making all the posters that kept her face in the public’s eye.
“Seeing her face, over and over, helped rescue her and bring her home,” Smart said.
Barron County Sheriff Chris Fitzgerald said he wouldn’t comment on if Smart had met with Jayme during the trip.
Fitzgerald was awed by the size of the crowd, as more chairs were brought into the packed gymnasium right up until the speech began.
“This is unbelievable,” Fitzgerald said as he looked out at the packed bleachers. “We’re thrilled to have her here. Obviously, (the crowd size) shows this community cares.”
Her appearance comes less than two weeks before Jake T. Patterson, 21, of Gordon will enter a plea March 27 for kidnapping 13-year-old Jayme Closs and killing her parents, James and Denise Closs, on Oct. 15.
Patterson is charged with two counts of first-degree intentional homicide, kidnapping and armed burglary. He remains incarcerated on a $5 million cash bond.
At this point, it appears unlikely that Patterson will face additional charges in Douglas County, where he reportedly held Jayme Closs for 88 days until she escaped Jan. 10.
Patterson was arrested shortly after Jayme Closs escaped from his isolated home east of Gordon.
When interviewed by authorities, Patterson admitted to both the homicides and the abduction, saying “he never would have been caught if he would have planned everything perfectly.” Patterson told authorities that he was driving on U.S. 8 when he saw Jayme Closs for the first time. The Barron girl was getting on a school bus at the time. He instantly decided he wanted to kidnap her, according to the criminal complaint. He had no ties to the Closses.
Jayme told police that she was ordered to stay under his bed, and he placed heavy totes and laundry bins containing weights around it to keep her captive. He would have friends over, but she was ordered to be quiet or “bad things would happen to her.” He also “would turn music on in his room so she couldn’t hear what was happening if there was anyone else in the house with him.”
Jayme stayed under the bed for up to 12 hours at a time, with no food, water or bathroom breaks. Patterson got angry at her once and “hit her really hard on her back.”
On the day of Jan. 10, Patterson told her he was going to be gone for five or six hours, and he left the house. Jayme “stated she was able to push the bins and weight away from the bed and crawl out.”