By Bob Zientara
Among the flurry of news activities that accompanied the first anniversary of the Closs case – stretching from October 2019 to the second week of January 2020 – one of the most unusual events was a visit by a team of Japanese journalists and TV technicians to this area during the second week of January.
The crew represented Japan-based Fuji Television, which broadcasts a program known as “The Nonfiction.” Aiding with the visit were personnel from Big Spin Productions, a broadcasting company headquartered in Sydney, Australia. Helping to coordinate local activities for the crew was Michael Bartsch, of Twin Cities-based 23 Skidoo Productions.
According to Bartsch, the program is the Japanese equivalent of “The Discovery Channel.”
Hiro Ohno, director for the Fuji TV show, and Naomichi Hosoya, translator, were in Barron and Douglas counties during their visit, speaking with sources at the Barron County Justice Center, and taking footage on the property where the Closs home was once located.
Someone called 911 to report the crew was on private land, and a Barron County Sheriff’s deputy asked them to shoot from the U.S. Hwy. 8 public right-of-way.
The crew also visited the Barron News-Shield Wednesday, Jan. 8, before departing for Douglas County, where local resident Jayme Closs was held captive from Oct. 15, 2018 until her escape a year ago Jan. 10.
“We have featured some kidnap and captivity cases in the past,” Ohno said Monday, Jan. 13, in an email sent to the News-Shield. “On this upcoming episode, we are planning to introduce similar cases along with (that of Jayme Closs).
“As we researched cases from around the world, we had learned about Jayme (after she) received a “hometown hero” award last May,” Ohno continued. “We decided to visit Barron County in order to introduce Japan to her courage and (to tell viewers) about the effort of the people who helped and believed in her rescue.”
Hosoya said the show would be broadcast in Japan during February, but added that it will likely not be available to viewers in the United States.
The hour-long interview at the News-Shield covered much of the ground that journalists from across the nation did during the time period between the Oct. 15, 2018 crime and the sentencing of Jayme Closs’ captor on May 24, 2019.
Through translator Hosoya, Ohno began the questioning with the night the crime took place and where local journalists thought Jayme’s captor had taken her after fleeing the scene. They wanted to know about the community’s reaction to the crime, and whether anything like it had ever happened here before.
The interviewers asked how the News-Shield learned about the facts of the case as they unfolded, and whether the paper had interviewed members of the Closs family.
The questions moved on to the suspect vehicle that pulled over to let deputies go by on their way to what they thought was a domestic quarrel, and the early press conferences in which investigators urged the public to respond quickly with any tips.
Hosoya and Ohno asked questions about the man caught breaking into the Closs home shortly after the murders and wondered if local journalists suspected he might have something to do with the case. But the interviewers were told that because the intruder’s name had come up in a prior case of a home invasion, authorities soon decided he wasn’t a person of interest.
The discussion included the massive search that took place within a week of the kidnapping and the subtle effort by investigators to check whether it was possible the perpetrator would return to the crime scene to watch what had happened.
Hosoya and Ohno asked about how the community came together, serving free meals to the investigators, holding a pair of vigils in the fall at the high school football field and just before Christmas 2018 in an open area across the street from Riverview Middle School.
The reporters wondered what local reporters thought about the kidnap victim’s confinement in Douglas County, but were told that what most people know around here is included in the criminal complaint.
The interviewers asked whether the News-Shield had spoken with either the suspect or the victim’s family. The answers: the News-Shield never made an attempt to communicate with the accused.
The paper did have contact with the aunt and uncle who later accepted Jayme into their home, but only early in the process, and just to relay requests for comment from the Closs family, the visitors were told.
The interviewers were also informed that – as is the case with many area journalists – the News-Shield has chosen to respect the family’s privacy in the meantime, particularly in its unique role as the only publication that serves the immediate area where Jayme, her parents, and their family and friends live.
An exception was made after the recent release of materials related to the investigation by authorities in Barron and Douglas counties, and the Madison-based Wisconsin Department of Criminal Investigation, the visitors were told.