This woman is the 'unsung hero' in the Jayme Closs case: 'She did all the math against a deadly clock'

When Jeanne Nutter spotted a young teen girl in just a sweatshirt, leggings, and a pair of slippers on a 20-degree morning near her Wisconsin home, she knew something was wrong. So when Nutter raced to the young girl on the street, “she just sort of fell into me and said, ‘I’m Jayme,'” Nutter told Gayle King on CBS This Morning. “And I said, ‘I know.'”

Thus was the beginning of the harrowing and shocking rescue of Jayme Closs, the 13-year-old who had been missing since Oct. 15, after her parents were murdered in their home in Barron, Wis. The high-profile, three-month search for the teen ended on Jan. 10, when Nutter was out walking her dog and spotted Closs, who had escaped from a secluded cabin in Gordon, Wis., near Nutter’s home.

People are now crediting Nutter’s experience as a social worker as the key to the success of Closs’s rescue. In a profession where 82.5 percent of the workers are women, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, listening to children in distress and acting calmly to ensure their safety are the skills these professionals rely on most.

“My CPS, child protection brain really just clicked in,” Nutter said in her first sit-down interview on Monday. “What was going through my head is, ‘Okay, I know your circumstances. I know what happened to you. I know the person you’re with is potentially dangerous. My only responsibility is to get you to a safe place.'”

Now retired as a social worker, Nutter currently serves as an academic advisor at the University of Wisconsin-Madison‘s School of Social Work, where she works alongside Ellen Smith, a child welfare training coordinator.  

Jeanne Nutter found missing Wisconsin teen Jayme Closs while she was out walking her dog in Gordon, Wisc.(Photos: Getty Images, Facebook/Healing for Jayme Closs)
Jeanne Nutter found missing Wisconsin teen Jayme Closs while she was out walking her dog in Gordon, Wisc.(Photos: Getty Images, Facebook/Healing for Jayme Closs)

“Social workers deal with kids who have experienced trauma every day. That’s the nature of the work,” Smith told a local ABC News reporter. “We’re trained to remain calm when kids are asking for help or when children are telling you things that have gone on.”

Even with years of experience, however, Nutter admits it was tough to keep her composure, having followed the hunt for Closs over the last few months.

“I was not calm inside, [but] I did not want her to know that,” Nutter said. “So, I just practiced all my skills: Talk softly, don’t ask her any questions. There are only a couple of questions I asked her. First of all, ‘Where did you come from?’ And she told me. I said, ‘Is he home?’ And she said, ‘No.’ I said, ‘Is he in a car?’ And she said, ‘Yes.’ And I said, ‘What color is it?’ Because if we ran into the car I wanted to have some other plan in my head.”

After quickly leading Closs to a nearby home and calling 911, Nutter is now being praised as an “unsung hero.” 

“The Closs abductor, a likely killer, was hunting her. Nutter did all the math against a deadly clock,” one man posted on Twitter.

But in the end, Nutter says she’s just grateful she was in the right place at the right time: “Honestly, I feel privileged that I had this little piece of the puzzle of finding Jayme.”

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