Jayme Closs, who was found on Thursday nearly three months after being allegedly abducted by a 21-year-old man who police say fatally shot her parents, exemplifies absolute bravery and strength, a relative tells PEOPLE.
“Jayme is a complete badass,” Jodie Arnold, who is first cousins with Jayme’s late mother Denise, tells PEOPLE. “As far as I’m concerned she saved herself.”
Recalling how the 13-year-old was a “very quiet, passive girl,” Arnold, 39, credits Jayme’s “perseverance and will to live” for her freedom.
“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,” Arnold says. “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. “
Jayme had been missing after vanishing on Oct. 15 — the same night her parents, James, 56, and Denise Closs, 46, were found dead in their home in Barron, Wisconsin, nearly 70 miles south of Gordon. She had been declared “missing and endangered,” an AMBER Alert was issued for her and thousands of people joined investigators in their search for her.
Jayme was rescued on Thursday afternoon after escaping her alleged captor and approaching a woman with a dog for help just outside of Gordon, Wisconsin, according to the Star-Tribune. The woman reportedly brought Jayme to the nearby front door of Kristin and Peter Kasinskas, who opened their front door around 4 p.m. to the sound of frantic knocking from a female neighbor. “This is Jayme Closs! Call 911!”” the woman said, the pair recalled to the Star Tribune.
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Arnold tells PEOPLE Jayme was found wearing oversized shoes. “This woman who found Jayme – Oh my God. I can’t imagine walking your dog and out of the woods comes this girl with big shoes on and says who she is,” she says. “I don’t know about around the country, but in this state, you’d be hard-pressed to find somebody who didn’t know what her face looked like. She instantly knew who she was. Thank God there was somebody walking.”
Relative: We’re ‘the Lucky Ones’ Because Jayme Is Alive
Arnold also says Jayme’s loved ones feel extremely grateful and are breathing sighs of relief.
“There were so many people that didn’t even know my family that carried all of this hope – and admittedly, I had lost it. This is just not how these stories usually end up,” she says.
“I thought to myself, what are the chances that we get to be the lucky ones? There are thousands of people that have missing family members and they don’t get happy endings,” she shares. “They’re praying and they’re doing everything they did for my cousin and they don’t get any kind of resolution or not a good ending.”
Arnold adds, “I have no idea how we got so lucky.”
According to Barron County Sheriff Chris Fitzgerald, Jayme was cleared medically Friday morning and will be reunited with her relatives later today. The teen will live with her aunt, Jennifer Smith — Jayme’s mother’s sister and legal guardian — a close friend of Jayme Closs‘ aunt told PEOPLE on Friday.
Investigators continue to speak to Jayme, and are still learning more about her harrowing ordeal, Fitzgerald said.
Arnold wonders if and how Jayme will feel safe about leaving her own house again. “I always wonder about that, people like Elizabeth Smart, who have persevered and overcome these crazy situations. I hope Jayme is able to find a way to have a quality life after all of this,” she says.