(ABC News)– One year after Jayme Closs was kidnapped as a 13-year-old and held for months by a man who murdered her parents, the teenager says she’s feeling “stronger every day.”
“I really want to thank everyone for all the kindness and concern that people all over the country have shown me,” Closs said in an exclusive statement to ABC News. “I am very happy to be home and getting back to the activities that I enjoy. I love hanging out with all of my friends, and I feel stronger every day!”
Jake Patterson pleaded guilty earlier this year to killing Closs’ parents on Oct. 15, 2018, and then kidnapping the teen from the family’s rural Barron, Wisconsin, home.
Closs was held captive at 21-year-old Patterson’s home for 88 days until she escaped in January.
“Jayme continues to work very hard on her emotional well-being,” the teen’s aunt, Jen Smith, and their family attorney, Chris Gramstrup, said in a statement. “She is moving forward and courageously reclaiming her life.”
The 14-year-old has taken day trips to hiking trails with her friends and her aunts, and has enjoyed celebrating weddings and birthdays with her family, the statement said.
“She has also been able to spend a good deal of time with her friends, just hanging out and being a typical teenager,” said Smith and Gramstrup. “Jayme’s incredible spirit and strength continue to inspire everyone around her.”
At a news conference on Monday, Gramstrup said the teen’s “father, James, was extremely strong. He was an athlete. He had great strength. Her mother, Denise, had … a huge amount of love and caring and kindness for everyone around her.
“Jayme has both those qualities that she’s gotten from her parents. She has the strength and she’s got the heart,” Gramstrup said. “It’s her strength and her heart that has and will continue to get her through this.”
Barron County Sheriff Chris Fitzgerald at Monday’s conference added, “I do want to take this time to remember James and Denise Closs who gave their lives protecting their daughter.”
“I also want to let Jayme know that we are all with her in whatever she needs in the future,” Fitzgerald said, adding that the teen taught “us the true meaning” of “courage, resilience and hope.”
Fitzgerald on Monday thanked the law enforcement team behind the massive search efforts to find the kidnapped teen, and also shed light on other missing childrne.
Robert Lowery, Vice President of the Missing Children Division at National Center for Missing & Exploited Children, said at the news conference, “it’s success stories like Jayme Closs that motivate us every day.”“”
Jayme was just one of dozens of children missing in Wisconsin and they’re still missing.
“Hope is what drives us,” Lowery said. “Many missing children come home … even 10 years or more when all hope was starting to diminish.”
“Jayme was just one of dozens of children missing in Wisconsin and they’re still missing,” Lowery said. “We should never stop looking for these kids.”
Lowery showed a poster of the faces of 40 missing children who “still need our help.”
Barron County prosecutor Brian Wright at the news conference thanked “everyone who prayed and held onto hope.”
“The people of Barron County … were just incredible in the support that they gave. From the food that they served to hundreds of law enforcement officers each and every day, to the search for Jayme right here in Barron County.”
Wright also thanked the sheriff who he said “took the lead in keeping this case in the media … constantly talking about the hope that we had for Jayme’s safe return.”
“In the end it was by and large because of that work that he did that on Jan. 10, 2019, when Jayme bravely escaped, that the person who first saw her immediately recognized her,” Wright said.
Wright also extended his appreciation to the “hundreds of law enforcement officers … who came here to volunteer, many on their own time and without pay.”
Patterson confessed to investigators that he targeted Jayme Closs after seeing her board a school bus, according to a criminal complaint.
After Patterson fled with the girl to his home, he created a space for her under his bed. When he would leave the house, he would put barbells and free weights around the bed so she couldn’t escape, according to the complaint.
Jayme Closs said in May that she escaped because “I was smarter.”
“I watched his routine and I took back my freedom,” Closs said through a statement read at sentencing on her behalf. “I will always have my freedom and he will not. Jake Patterson can never take my courage. He thought he could control me, but he couldn’t.”