It's been a year since Jayme Closs made a run for it.
The Wisconsin teen made national news on Jan. 10, 2019, when she managed after three months in captivity to escape the abductor who had killed her parents, James and Denise Closs, part of a chilling plot to kidnap Jayme after he became infatuated with her following a chance sighting of her on the street.
Now 14, having celebrated a birthday in July, Closs is busily working on being a normal kid with the help of the devoted family and friends who have rallied around her, hoping to make her feel safe and secure again after such a terrifying ordeal.
Jake Thomas Patterson was sentenced in May to life in prison after pleading guilty to two counts of intentional homicide and one count of kidnapping.
"He stole my parents from me. He stole almost everything I loved from me," Closs said in a letter read for her in absentia at Patterson's sentencing by her attorney, Christopher Gramstrup. "For 88 days he tried to steal me and he didn't care who he hurt or who he killed to do that. He should stay locked up forever.
"He can't take my freedom. He thought he could own me, but he was wrong. I was smarter. I watched his routine and I took back my freedom. I will always have my freedom and he will not. He could never take away my courage. He thought he could control me, but he couldn't. I feel like what he did was what a coward would do. I was brave. He was not."
Her maternal aunt Jennifer Smith was appointed Jayme's legal guardian and the teen and her dog, Molly, have been living with Smith and her husband ever since. Last May, they made the drive to Madison, Wis., where state lawmakers honored Closs as a hero at the state capitol.
"Your strength, your resolve and your bravery is beyond incredible," Rep. Romaine Quinn, whose district includes Closs' hometown of Barron, said at the ceremony, per the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel. "You are truly an inspiration and a bright light in a time of sadness. No matter how grave your situation, no matter how dark your day becomes and no matter how impossible your circumstances may seem, there is always hope."
Jayme didn't speak, but smiled as she accepted a plaque from the state assemblyman and took pictures.
Closs' escape defied the grim statistics associated with non-family child abductions, in that the first 24 hours are critical when the kidnapper is considered a predator, and after that the odds of a safe return plummet.
And ever since she turned up in relatively good condition after fleeing the remote cabin where Patterson had been keeping her, waiting until he went out and she suspected he'd be gone for awhile, those close to her have given Jayme 100 percent of the credit for being so smart and so brave.
"Jayme is a complete badass," Jodie Arnold, a first cousin of Denise Closs, told People after Jayme was reunited with family. "As far as I'm concerned she saved herself."
Arnold continued, "I was really afraid that if she was being kept captive that it would be really hard for her to leave because you're afraid—and you get what, one chance to do something like that. For her to have that kind of will to live through an ordeal like this. I have to think that there will be a way for her to have a satisfying life with her family and with herself in the future."
After getting outside, where it was around 20 degrees, Jayme—clad in a sweatshirt, leggings and a pair of too-big tennis shoes that belonged to her captor—went up to a woman, Jeanne Nutter, who was out walking her dog and told her who she was. They knocked on the nearest door, and the couple inside, Peter and Kristin Kasinskas, who knew Jeanne, let them in and Peter called 911. He later told the Associated Press he thought Jayme herself deserved the $50,000 reward money that was offered because "she got herself out."
"I'm still a little bit in shock," said Lindsey Smith, Jennifer Smith's daughter and Jayme's first cousin. "I just want to go over there, every day, to my mom's house and see Jayme. Amazing to see her home...My mom, her heart has been just broken since Jayme was gone. 'Now,' I told her, I said, 'I get my mom back. You are happy again.' It's just the best thing I've ever seen."
Per an interview transcript that was part of a cache of documents made public just last month, Patterson told investigators he at one point had allowed Jayme to write a letter to her aunt "to let her at least tell her family that she's okay and alive." The letter never made it to Jayme's aunt.
While their reunion was unquestionably joyful, the question remained as to how Jayme would cope in the aftermath of her ordeal.
"Right now, the first step is surrounding her by love, making sure she's safe, she feels safe," Suzi Allard, another aunt, told King a year ago. "She's doing pretty well. I spent the afternoon there yesterday. We had her smiling, laughing, going through things in her room."
As for Jayme, "when she's ready to talk, she will," Allard said. The family was, of course, curious about everything that had gone on for those terrible 88 days, bu they said that experts had advised them to just let Jayme tell her story when she was ready, at her own pace.
In October, she spoke out publicly for the first time since her poignant statement was read in court, telling ABC News in a statement that she was "feeling stronger every day."
"I really want to thank everyone for all the kindness and concern that people all over the country have shown me," the teen said. "I am very happy to be home and getting back to the activities that I enjoy. I love hanging out with all of my friends, and I feel stronger every day!"
"Jayme continues to work very hard on her emotional well-being," her aunt Jennifer Smith and attorney Chris Gramstrup said in an additional statement. "She is moving forward and courageously reclaiming her life."
"She has also been able to spend a good deal of time with her friends, just hanging out and being a typical teenager," they also said. "Jayme's incredible spirit and strength continue to inspire everyone around her."
Also in October, Gramstrup joined Barron County Sheriff Chris Fitzgerald at a news conference, where they took a moment to pay tribute to Jayme's late parents, Denise and James.
Jayme's father "was extremely strong," Gramstrup said. "He was an athlete. He had great strength. Her mother, Denise, had...a huge amount of love and caring and kindness for everyone around her. Jayme has both those qualities that she's gotten from her parents. She has the strength and she's got the heart. It's her strength and her heart that has and will continue to get her through this."
Gramstrup shared that Jayme had had an "extremely busy summer, a good summer," taking day trips and doing a lot of hiking with family and friends. "She's been very busy," the lawyer said. "She's got a big family and had a lot of weddings and birthdays she enjoyed celebrating with family, including a big celebration for her birthday." The teen was "very social" and he guessed that "the most enjoyable time Jayme has had is just getting back into a routine and really enjoying and spending time with her friends."
Added Fitzgerald, "I do want to take this time to remember James and Denise Closs who gave their lives protecting their daughter. I also want to let Jayme know that we are all with her in whatever she needs in the future."
Barron County District Attorney Brian Wright, who prosecuted Patterson, gave a shout-out to the county's residents, who "were just incredible in the support that they gave. From the food that they served to hundreds of law enforcement officers each and every day, to the search for Jayme right here in Barron County."
He credited Fitzgerald for keeping the case in the headlines and on TV, "constantly talking about the hope that we had for Jayme's safe return. In the end it was by and large because of that work that he did that on Jan. 10, 2019, when Jayme bravely escaped, that the person who first saw her immediately recognized her."
Sitting down with KMSP-TV's Fox 9 News a few days ago, Sheriff Fitzgerald reiterated how they never gave up hope that they were going to find Jayme alive.
"That was kind of the message that we put out to the media and to the people, and the community responded with that. And there's no reason to give up hope and there's a lot of missing kids in the world, and I know Jayme and her family don't want the story to be about her. They want it to be about other missing kids, and you never give up hope on whatever that story is, or whatever that thing you're missing is—and that was the greatest part of this case."
Her aunt just had a birthday, Fitzgerald said, and he saw pictures from the celebration with "smiles on everybody's faces. And for 88 days I didn't get to see those smiles, so if I get a little extra smile on my face when I see those—it's pretty special to see a smile on Jayme's face, to see a smile on the family's face, 'cause they went through a lot.
"She's doing great, as well as should be expected and can be expected," the sheriff added, "and she's just involved in school and she's doing what every 14-year-old kid should be doing, and that's just being a kid."