It’s that day again… October 22. A few years ago, this day would have come and gone without much thought on my part. Another day, another dollar, another deadline. However, since I started blogging about a certain story three years ago, October 22 now holds a special place in my heart.
That’s because today — October 22, 2013 — marks the 24th anniversary of Jacob Wetterling’s abduction.
Twenty four years? How can that possibly be? It’s hard to believe, but Jacob would be 35 years old today. That smiley kid in the yellow shirt would be 35 years old. But, instead of running his kids to football practice or lamenting over the debut of our new Vikings quarterback, Jacob remains a memory… forever 11 years old… never aging… and never found.
When I first started writing about Jacob three years ago, I was hopeful I could somehow make a difference. I really believed if I could talk to the right people, get the facts straight, and keep the conversation going, that maybe someone somewhere might hold the key that could unlock this 24 year old mystery.
No go. After a lot of effort, the facts remains the same. Jacob remains missing. The case remains unsolved.
But today… maybe just maybe… the key is closer than we think.
Not long after I wrote my last blog post, “Jared’s story,” I was researching a different story when I ran across an old 1987 newspaper article from the Paynesville Press. (Paynesville is a small town about 30 miles from St. Joseph.)
It ran on the front page. Here’s the article:
Local police seek help in accosting incidents
The Paynesville Police Department is seeking public support in apprehending a man that has been accosting young men in the Paynesville community. So far there have been five different incidents reported.
Sergeant Bill Drager, Paynesville Police Department, said, “We need help, all the help we can get.”
According to Sgt. Drager, the incidents began last summer, there were two more incidents during the winter, one incident occured this spring and another last week.
The police are taking these incidents very seriously.
Sgt. Drager stated, “After this guy grabs the boys he tells them, ‘Don’t turn around or I’ll blow your head off’ and in at least one instance he used a knife.” The man then makes sexual advances to the boys.
The young men that have been assaulted range in age from 12-16 years of age. “The kids are scared,” Sgt. Drager said.
There doesn’t appear to be any pattern to the area that the attacks take place. One incident happened by the river, another in the hockey rink area, downtown Ben Franklin area, middle school playground, and the alley between the middle school and the hospital.
The last incident happened when two young men were riding their bikes home. One young man was grabbed off of his bike and the other young man went for help.
In every instance, the young men had been downtown before they were accosted. “It think he’s picking them out downtown and then following them home or lying in wait for them to go home,” Sgt. Drager said.
Every instance occurred on a weekend night after dark — between 9:30pm and 2:00am.
The suspect wore a mask on several occasions. Sgt. Drager said one young man described the mask as looking like it was made out of indoor-outdoor candy-striped carpeting.
The man is supposedly 5’11″ tall, not fat, but chunky. In the last incident, he had blackened everything — so that you couldn’t make out anything on his face. He can run fast, according to witnesses.
The police are encouraging people to call in if they see anything strange or suspicious. “If someone is lurking around or walking on your property — call us,” Sgt. Drager said. “We want calls — that’s preventative more than anything,” he added.
Sgt. Drager also said, “I don’t know if the public’s going to go for it or not, but we may have to go to a curfew.”
There really are not rules to follow if you are accosted. Sgt. Drager suggested, “Holler and run away if you can — it worked the last time.”
Sgt. Drager is also considering talking to the school administrators so that teachers can help make students aware of what is happening.”
These five assault cases took place between 1986 and 1987… the last one occurring just a year and a half before Jared was assaulted. If you read Jared’s story, you’re probably in full agreement that this has to be the same guy who assaulted Jared, and quite possibly the same guy who abducted Jacob. The M.O. is eerily similar… the hockey rink… kids downtown… threat of a gun… authoritative manner… stocky build…
I read the article to Jared over the phone, and he couldn’t believe it. He wanted to know more. So, I emailed the Stearns County Sheriff Department and told them Jared wanted to meet with them so he could learn more about his own case, and these five assault cases from 1987.
As it turns out, they had never heard of these five cases.
Since then, a lot has happened. I can’t discuss all of it quite yet, but here’s how you can help. The Stearns County Sheriff’s Department is actively trying to collect statements from these five boys who were assaulted in 1987. If you know any of these young men, please contact the Stearns County Sheriff’s Department at 320-251-4240 (answered 24/7), or email firstname.lastname@example.org (reviewed daily). If you’d rather, you may also email me privately at email@example.com. Jared has also agreed to talk to any of the five men who would be willing to discuss their case with him.
As for the rest of us, here’s another way we can help. Today, in honor of Jacob Wetterling and all the other missing children, leave your front porch light lit throughout the day and “let your light shine:”
LET YOUR LIGHT SHINE OCT. 22 FOR JACOB WETTERLING; ALL MISSING CHILDREN
The Jacob Wetterling Resource Center is asking individuals to commit to leaving a porch light lit on Tuesday, Oct. 22 to create hope and light in the world in honor of Jacob Wetterling, who was abducted on Oct. 22, 1989, in St. Joseph. The case remains open and unsolved. Jacob’s story has left an indelible mark on the hearts of thousands, if not millions, of people throughout Minnesota, the United States and the world.
JWRC has always asked families to leave a porch light on to honor Jacob on Oct. 22. In addition to turning on an outside light, JWRC encourages individuals to let their own lights shine. Help a neighbor, talk to your child about safety, support a local child-serving organization, the ideas are endless. There is no greater way to honor Jacob than to create a more hope-filled world.
It’s very rare an abductor comes forward to confess to a crime like this one. but in most cases, the abductor tells someone what they did. If you are able to shine a light into this case by coming forward to law enforcement with information that will lead to answers, JWRC encourages you to take that step. Leads on Jacob’s case can be called into the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children at 800-THE-LOST.
The JWRC, originally called the Jacob Wetterling Foundation, was founded in 1990 by Patty and Jerry Wetterling following their son’s abduction near St. Joseph. (www.jwrc.org). JWRC has a proven history of educating families and communities to prevent sexual exploitation and abductions of children and also provides victim assistance to families of the missing.
Jacob’s legacy continues to be honored through JWRC, a program of the Gundersen National Child Protection Training Center. Their mission is to end all forms of child abuse, neglect and exploitation through training, education, advocacy, prevention and awareness, providing care and treatment for children, families and adults.