IE 11 is not supported. For an optimal experience visit our site on another browser.

When Jayme Closs escaped, 'I know exactly how she felt': Past kidnap survivors speak out

Elizabeth Smart and Michelle Knight told NBC News they are overjoyed that the Wisconsin teen was found safe and recalled their own escapes from captivity.
Get more newsLiveon

They made headlines for the darkest of reasons, then again for a most improbable one: escaping, months or years after they had been kidnapped.

When news broke Thursday that Jayme Closs, the Wisconsin teen missing since October, had been found alive, Closs joined a group of kidnap survivors who get a second chance at life.

But she should not expect it to be the same life that she had before her ordeal, according to some who have been in similar situations.

Image: Megyn Kelly TODAY - Season 1
Michelle Knight sits for an interview on Megyn Kelly on April 30.Nathan Congleton / TODAY

Elizabeth Smart, the Utah woman who was held for nine months when she was 14 years old, told NBC News she was "so excited" to hear that Jayme had been found.

Taken at knifepoint from her Salt Lake City bedroom in 2002, Smart said that during her captivity, she felt like “life had been stolen from me, all the dreams and aspirations had been stolen.”

“When I was rescued, I felt like all of a sudden all that had been given back, and I didn’t want to miss out on any of it, and I just hope and pray that Jayme feels the same way,” said Smart, now 31.

For Michelle Knight, 37, who was one of three women chained in a Cleveland house for years by rapist Ariel Castro — Knight was held for 11 years — Jayme’s escape brought back memories of her own first days out of captivity.

“I know exactly what she felt like coming out of the situation,” Knight, who was freed in 2013 and has since legally changed her name to Lily Rose Lee, told NBC News. “You're scared, you don't know what to do, so you want to be closed off a little bit.”

"When I first got out of the house, I didn't know how to trust, what to say, how to say it. I was like this little girl just learning how to ride a bicycle again."

Knight said she went through a range of emotions when she got out: sadness, fear, shame, and wondering if she would ever trust anyone again.

"When I first got out of the house, I didn't know how to trust, what to say, how to say it. I was like this little girl just learning how to ride a bicycle again," she said.

Authorities had been searching for Jayme, 13, ever since Oct. 15, when her parents were found shot dead in their Barron, Wisconsin, home. Police believed that Jayme had witnessed the killings, but had vanished by the time police got to the house.

On Thursday afternoon, Jayme, looking malnourished and with her hair matted, emerged from a wooded area in the tiny town of Gordon, Wisconsin, and approached a woman who had just walked her dog. The woman recognized her and walked her to a neighbor's house, shouting, "This is Jayme Closs! Call 911!"

Smart, who has become an outspoken advocate against child abduction since she was found, acknowledged that Jayme is returning to circumstances “tinged with a great deal of sadness” with her parents’ deaths and said she hoped the teen would find support elsewhere, including from other relatives and her friends.

“It’s so wonderful that her aunt and grandmother are so excited to be with her, and I hope she finds her support,” Smart said.

Such support will be crucial as Jayme acclimates to life since her escape, Smart added.

"Once I was rescued and I got home with my family, I thought I could get back and go back to where I left off, and it took me a long time to realize that was just not possible.”

She said that while she can’t speculate on everything Jayme has been through and what she’s feeling, “I think it will be safe to say there will be no returning to what her life was like before she was kidnapped.”

“Honestly, that was one of the hardest things for me, because once I was rescued and I got home with my family, I thought I could get back and go back to where I left off, and it took me a long time to realize that was just not possible,” Smart said.

“There’s just no going back. There’s just going forward and coming to terms with your new normal,” Smart added. “Before I was kidnapped, I was very quiet, I was happy to blend in with everyone else, to not be noticed. And all of a sudden, I came back home, and everyone knew my name and wanted to talk to me, and it was very overwhelming.”

Knight recalled feeling similarly in the days and weeks after she escaped Castro. She said if she could pass one piece of advice on to Jayme, it would be to take time to heal and have faith that she will be able to process the difficult emotions that follow such an experience.

“I have accomplished getting over fears. I have accomplished getting over things that trigger me," she said. "It took me time to realize that it’s not the thing; it’s a person that has done those things to you. It’s not the song, it's the person who hurt you that was playing that song while they were doing something horrible to you,” she said.

Jayme was evaluated at a hospital after she was found and has since been released. Authorities on Friday announced they had arrested Jake Patterson, 21, of Gordon, Wisconsin, in connection with the killings of Jayme’s parents', James and Denise Closs, and with her kidnapping. It was not clear whether he had any prior connection to the family.

The two women urged the media and well-wishers to give Jayme and her relatives privacy as they reconnect with each other, and Smart said she hoped Jayme’s story would serve as a reminder to the public.

“Never give up hope on any missing child, because we do come back,” Smart said. “So when pictures of missing children pop up in your social media or they come in the newspaper or flash across the screen in the news, or you see a sign above the freeway giving details, don’t just think, ‘Well, it’s not going to me who sees them.’”

“Look at the picture,” she added. “And if you see anything suspicious and you see anything that might shed light on a specific case, call it in. There is no shame in being wrong, because you might be right.”