Our collective relief - and not just in Northwestern Wisconsin, either, or even only across our Northland, but shared by an entire nation - was shattered some with the release this week of a criminal complaint against Jake Patterson, accused of shooting and killing James and Denise Closs inside their home before bounding and dragging away their little girl, 13-year-old Jayme Closs.
Packed with details few of us needed to know - but clicked on anyway to read, cringing, as though devouring a horror novel, our sense of respect overpowered by our curiosity - the 12-page complaint leaves as many questions unanswered as it fills in the grisly details of a monthslong tragedy and mystery, and a community's quest to find answers, to find Jayme.
In the end, the girl's escape was her own doing, as Barron County Sheriff Chris Fitzgerald stated. "Jayme is the hero in this case," he told assembled reporters. "There's no question about it."
Showing bravery beyond her tender years, she pushed her way past totes and laundry bins, weighed down by free weights, that were used to barricade the tiny space where she was being hidden, under a bed. She grabbed shoes - any shoes - and fled, finding a woman on the street outside walking a dog, as the complaint details.
In a world where we struggle to make sense, puzzles remain, and the biggest may be: Why? The man arrested told authorities he didn't know the girl and didn't even know who or how many people lived in her house. While driving to work one morning, he simply saw her boarding a school bus and decided then and there "that was the girl he was going to take," as the complaint states.
With the unlikely but as welcome-as-Christmas-morning news breaking late last week that Jayme had been found alive, with the details now emerging, with the glare and sometimes-sensationalized national media attention beginning to fade, and with our criminal-justice system taking over, we as a community, as a region - as neighbors - can mourn the deaths of James and Denise Closs. We can give Jayme Closs space and privacy to begin healing. We can provide her all the help and support she needs. And we can assist and prop up others affected by this awful moment, including Patterson's loved ones.
Lighted signs outside of businesses in tiny Barron welcomed Jayme home. That was after 88 days of wondering whether that was the message they'd be able to display. It was also after nearly three months of an unfathomable captivity and of untold nightmarish moments.
We can thank the heavens for a prayers-answered outcome, a rarity in so many such cases. But we can remember, too, that for many, this is far from over.
And we all can draw strength from the bravery of a young girl, choosing that over crumbling under the weight of details held in a massive criminal report - and in what is yet to come.