If you live in Minnesota, or even the Midwest region in general, the name Jacob Wetterling is one that has been heard repeatedly over the last 26 years. It is the name of an 11-year-old boy who was abducted in his front yard Oct. 22, 1989, not even mile from his home.
Jacob was with his brother and friend as they rode their bikes home from a convenience store. It was around 9 p.m. when a masked gunman approached them and abducted Jacob.
Since that night, the case has become one of Minnesota’s most infamous unsolved crimes. For years, the case has been investigated, evidence brought forward, but still no arrests made.
“The one question we have said for 26 years is: ‘Where’s Jacob?’” his mother, Patty Wetterling, said this Tuesday, Nov. 3.
“That’s what we’ve been trying to find for all of these years, and I really believe someone in this community knows.”
The mystery has been brought back to the public’s attention, as a man was arrested last week with other charges, including being named a “person of interest” in the Wetterling case, according to authorities.
The Wetterling’s addressed a crowd of reporters outside their home to discuss the updates in the case.
Daniel Heinrich, a 52-year-old Annandale man, was arrested last week with federal child pornography charges after authorities found items found in his home. Officials said they discovered 19 three-ring binders filled with pornographic images of young boys.
Authorities conducted the search due to new DNA evidence that linked Heinrich to the kidnapping and sexual assault of a Cold Spring boy, the same year that Jacob was abducted.
Items that officials were looking for in the warrant included human remains and Jacob’s clothing. Although they didn’t discover either, the child pornography and videos of young boys were enough for law enforcement to arrest Heinrich.
Many people have openly expressed their frustrations that Heinrich cannot be charged in the Cold Spring case due to the statute of limitations. Back in 1989, the statute of limitations for sexual assault was nine years, or three years after the offense was reported.
Investigators made statements claiming they believe the Cold Spring and Wetterling cases are linked with eight attacks on young boys in the Paynesville area from 1986 to 1988.
Authorities discovered that in each case, the assailant had a similar masked description and threatened violence against each of the victims who were around the same age.
Heinrich was questioned back in 1989 and 1990 about Jacob’s disappearance, but he denied any involvement and was not charged.
Jacob’s parents, Jerry and Patty Wetterling, publicly addressed media for the first time since Heinrich’s arrest on Tuesday outside their home.
Jerry said, “Thank you so much for being a part of our journey for 26 years. No one person can solve this case to bring Jacob home. It takes all of us working together to do that.”
The pair did not address Heinrich by name, but said they were “caught off guard” by the arrest made last week. They called for the communities help in coming forward with information. Patty, who has been a longtime advocate for missing and exploited children, made a point to use this opportunity to help others undergoing hardship.
“There may be other victims, there may be other stories to share. What we do know, is child sexual abuse and abduction is something that we can’t tolerate,” she said. “I refuse to be silenced by this man; we were caught off guard like all of you. We don’t have the answers yet, but I refuse to be silent.
“I know there’s more good people in the world than bad and when good people pull together, amazing things happen.”
Heinrich had his first court appearance on Wednesday. He has been charged with five counts of possessing and receiving child pornography – with at least one hundred images of children in graphic/pornographic poses from the material officials found in his home.
The amount of pornography and evidence was enough for the judge to keep Heinrich in custody as the investigation continues.
Patty said, “We still don’t know who took Jacob; we have as many questions or more as all of you. We will let law enforcement and the courts and the process continue and we’ll watch impatiently for answers.”