On September 4, 2016, the people of Minnesota were in disbelief as reports came in confirming that remains discovered the day before were those of Jacob Wetterling. In 1989, 11-year-old Jacob was taken at gunpoint by a man on a rural road while riding his bike home with his two siblings and was never seen again.
The case remained unsolved for 26 years until person of interest Daniel Heinrich led police to a farm in central Minnesota where human remains were found. DNA testing identified the body as Jacob's. After almost three decades, the leading child abduction case in Minnesota came to a heartbreaking end.
Heinrich, who was also suspected of another child abduction in 1989, was initially questioned about Wetterling’s disappearance multiple times but denied any involvement and was never arrested. In 2015 his home was searched unearthing numerous pornographic images of children and he was taken into federal custody. However authorities found no evidence connecting him to Jacob until Heinrich himself led them to the farm.
In the face of such devastating tragedy, most parents' would have fallen apart. But Jacob's mom, Patty Wetterling, decided she needed to do something to ensure something like this never happened to another family again.
Patty has been an advocate for missing and sexually abused children ever since her son was abducted. She is to thank for the 1994 Jacob Wetterling Crimes Against Children and Sexually Violent Offender Registration Act which “requires states to maintain sex offender registries and guidelines.”
She could have fallen apart. She could have given up and stepped away into the shadows of her grief. But she didn’t.
Play with your children. Giggle. Hold hands. Eat ice cream. Create joy. Help your neighbor. This is what will bring me comfort today.
She pushed for better laws to protect children, maintained her compassion and never gave up that her son may one day come home. And early Saturday morning, as I logged into my Facebook feed and saw the news of Jacob’s remains undergoing DNA testing, my heart broke for her. The next day my tears came again as it was confirmed that the body was indeed that of her son.
The details will come in the next few months of how and when he died. But the most important thing is that this family can finally begin to heal. They can hold a funeral for their boy and bury him. Patty no longer has to wonder where he is. As a mother myself, I can only imagine what she may be going through.
Jacob’s mother addressed the media today, but earlier this weekend, it was her heartfelt words that were spreading around the nation: “Everyone wants to know what they can do to help us. Say a prayer. Light a candle. Be with friends. Play with your children. Giggle. Hold hands. Eat ice cream. Create joy. Help your neighbor. This is what will bring me comfort today.”
In a world of increasing negativity and scrutiny of parents, these words may just bring parents together and inspire us to understand what's really important in life.