When Wisconsin teen Jayme Closs was found Thursday after escaping the man who allegedly abducted her three months ago, the people at the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC) reacted with relief – and tears.
“We were just so happy,” the NCMEC’s media director, Angeline Hartmann, tells PEOPLE. “We were crying, high fiving, falling on the floor. We’re so excited.”
Hartmann tells PEOPLE that the non-profit organization was growing concerned that the media coverage on the case had waned. “That happens,” she says. “And that can be very dangerous. We want people to keep this in the front of their minds. But as time went on, it was obvious that things might take a while, and people were starting to forget.”
The numbers are staggering. According to the FBI, in 2018, there were 424,066 entries for missing children. More than 92 percent were endangered runaways, 4 percent were family abductions, 1 percent is lost or injured children — and only 1 percent is nonfamily abductions.
“It doesn’t matter the nature of the case,” says Hartman. “Each case is important to us.”
Despite the time elapsed, the NCMEC was confident that Jayme’s case might have a happy ending.
“People were assuming she wasn’t going to be alive, but we strongly believed for several weeks that she was out there somewhere,” says Hartmann. “And she was.”
“It says something that Jayme was recognized immediately,” she continues. “That means that the media coverage helped.”
The bodies of Jayme’s mother, Denise Closs, 46, and 56-year-old father James Closs, were recovered the morning of Oct. 15, 2018, after police received a 911 call from their home.
Nobody spoke during the 911 call, but a disturbance could be heard. When police subsequently arrived at the family home, they found the parents dead but no sign of Jayme. Officials issued an AMBER Alert for the teen, and declared her “missing and endangered.”
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Jayme was found on Thursday, and the next day, police announced they had arrested 21-year-old Jake Thomas Patterson, of Gordon, and charged him with two counts of first-degree intentional homicide and one count of kidnapping.
“We’re overjoyed that she’s back with her family,” says Hartmann. “She has been through unimaginable things. We don’t know all the details, but what we know is horrific. We all need to celebrate the fact that she’s still alive.”
Hartmann says that there’s a lesson for the public to learn from this case.
“The takeaway from this case: no matter how long a child is missing, we should never, ever lose hope,” she says. “We should never, ever stop searching. Children come home every day.”