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Dozens of volunteers help find missing wisdom. teenager



– They left their homes and work Thursday afternoon to answer a sheriff's call to search for their own.

Dozens of volunteers from the small towns of northwest Wisconsin came through their knee high brush in the early afternoon to comb through the ditches of the highway. They were desperately searching for the slightest clues that could lead them to a 13-year-old girl who disappeared during the night and was possibly in danger.

In total, there were 100 of places like Rice Lake and Almena and Cameron. They worked under a cloudless October sky with state and law enforcement officers, covering 22 kilometers of road, hoping to provide important evidence that could lead them to Jayme Coss, who disappeared on early Monday after her parents were killed She was in the family home on the outskirts of Barron.

"I want to be with the community," said Renee Decker, who left her home in Rice Lake to help with the search.

"I have children, she added, when her eyes filled with tears." They are adults. But that's still hard. "

Despite the volunteer involvement, Thursday's search ended frustratingly, with four days after James and Denise Closs been murdered and their daughter disappeared, the investigators seemed to be wondering what to do in Closs or on Monday morning Investigators have no suspects, they have no weapon, and Thursday's search, which lasted several hours, revealed "nothing of evidential value," said Sheriff Chris Fitzgerald.

But the volunteers brought all the determination they could muster.

When they gathered in an open field before searching In a cemetery, they talked quietly together.

The last four days were stressful for a community seeking answers sought and wrestled with feelings ranging from anxiety to heartache.

"A black cloud hangs over the community," said a volunteer he who did not want to be identified.

Despite the tragic news and overwhelming sadness, he and the other volunteers wanted to do whatever they could to help.

So many volunteers came to help with the search Thursday that dozens were sent away because Fitzgerald had limited the number to 1

00. Divided into teams of seven, they wore reflective vests as they ran side by side along the ditches, eyes fixed on the bumps, dry ground, the sound of their feet shuffling through a sometimes shoulder-high brush.

Divided into seven-headed teams.

They waved off beetles and moved from one side of the highway to the next, picking up garbage to see what lay beneath.

"That has been devastating," said one Seeker, a volunteer at Barron Fire Department, who also did not want to be identified. "If only we could find some clues to bring home."

While volunteers and law enforcement officers were working the street, several Wisconsin government and police departments sent trained therapists, school resource officers and consolation dogs to the Barron area school district where Jayme is a student

Not far from the Closs's home Joan Smrekar at her kitchen table and wished she could turn back time.

Smrekar and her husband Tom had gone to bed at around 12:15 pm on Monday, when minutes later she said she heard "BOOM!" Within seconds came another, but dull bang.

"Was that a shot?" she asked her husband.

"Yes, from a really big gun," he told her.

Listening to shots in this rural and wooded community is not uncommon. "Maybe it's just a neighbor trying to keep a bear away from his dog," Tom Smrekar told his wife.

About half an hour later, Joan Smrekar, as so often, got out of bed. Her English Shepherd also seemed to be snooping a bit, so she looked out her front windows to see what was going on. But she said she had not seen anything unusual.

What she did not know was that the police responded to an emergency call in the Closs residence, which was about 200 meters away. She guessed that she was unaware of this because MPs did not hire the sirens and the dense woods and the bush between the houses kept them from seeing the emergency lights.

It was not until dawn began and an officer knocked on their door to hear the devastating news – Denise and James Coss were murdered and their daughter was missing.

In the days since, investigators from the FBI have searched the local law enforcement agencies for the Smrekar house and yard along with those from their neighbors looking for clues.

"I look out the kitchen window every day and say, 'If you're out there, come home, Jayme,'" said Joan Smrekar. "I hope you can find her and take care of her."

As she spoke on Thursday, Smrekar paused, her eyes red and tearful.

"I feel I should have done something else," she said. The two loud pony bells just seemed too loud, too close, she said.

"I should have called the police," she added. "Maybe I could have saved Jayme … I want to tell her that I'm sorry."

mlsmith@startribune.com 612-673-4788 paul.walsh@startribune.com 612-673-4482

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