Where are you Jacob?

Twenty one years, and still no trace

Jacob Wetterling, age 11It was 21 years ago yesterday, October 22, 1989, that 11 year old Jacob Wetterling was abducted by a stranger while riding his bike home from a convenience store in St. Joseph, Minnesota.

Twenty one years.

I think everyone in Minnesota knows and remembers Jacob. I was 22 years old and had just graduated from the University of Minnesota when this story broke. I remember the constant media coverage, the white ribbons, the “Missing” posters… and I remember seeing Jacob’s parents on the news, begging for their son’s safe return. My heart broke for them.

Composite sketch of possible suspectWe all wanted to help. There were composite sketches of a bald headed man with piercing eyes. And then we learned of a white work van with no windows. For weeks, I scoured every white van on the road, hoping to find a scary bald man at the wheel. To this day, when I see a white work van with no windows, I think of Jacob.

I remember going to a Minnesota Vikings game with my mom just a week or two after Jacob’s disappearance. Everywhere you looked, there were posters and banners with Jacob’s picture on them. The Vikings even dedicated the game ball to Jacob. It was so sad, yet we all remained so hopeful. Surely by splashing Jacob’s photo across the national media, we’d find him. Surely this exposure would help develop a viable lead.

Vikings vs. Rams, 1989It didn’t. Jacob remained missing. Weeks passed, then months, then years. As a state, a nation, and a generation, we were shook. Jacob’s abduction changed the way we raised our children. We taught them to be wary of strangers, to be home before dark, and to scream and fight back if someone ever tried to pull them into a car. Our parents didn’t need to have this conversation with us; but this is how we live in the post-Jacob years.

I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about Jacob lately. This case has stuck with me all these years, and like many I’m sure, Jacob and his family are never far from our thoughts. Then, out of nowhere, last summer we learned that a farm property was being searched, near the spot where Jacob was abducted. Investigators from the F.B.I. and the Bureau of Criminal Apprehension were on the scene, hauling away dump trucks full of dirt and ashes for forensic testing. A “person of interest” was identified in the case… someone we’d never heard of before… the single, middled-aged son of the elderly couple who owned the farm. It seemed a little too obvious… but maybe, just maybe…

No go. The results were inconclusive. Back to square one.

Lately, I just can’t seem to shake Jacob’s story from my head. Even before the investigation, it’s been stuck on me. I’ve prayed… pleaded… for an answer for Jacob’s family. Maybe if I just prayed hard enough… maybe if I reviewed the details of the case… maybe if I blogged about it… maybe, just maybe…

So today, I did something crazy. I was on my way to St. Cloud to buy a birthday present, when I decided to drive through St. Joseph. I ended up driving right past the exact spot where Jacob was abducted, and I even stopped at a Casey’s convenience store to fill up with gas, assuming that might have been a Tom Thumb back in 1989 (it wasn’t). I re-traced the path Jacob and his friends would have taken, just to get a feel for how far it was, and whether I would have allowed my boys to ride their bikes after dark to go rent a movie. (The answer… absolutely not, but that’s just how we helicopter mothers deal now in the post-Jacob era.)

I’ll share the full story in the next few chapters. I even took some photos, which I’ll share. The truth is, I still hope for a happy ending to this story, as impossible as that may seem. Maybe if I pray hard enough, if I look hard enough, if I think about it long enough… maybe, just maybe…

Read next chapter…

3 Comments

  1. Randy Almendinger |

    WOW – what a feeling of sadness came over me. I can not imagine what the family is feeling. I sincerely pray that your story will produce some results.

  2. you’re doing a great job! I will also have Jacob in my prayers. I hope there would be some more things that could open our eyes to this case…

  3. I am astounded that after all these years it took a concerned citizen to connect the dots with the other child rapes in the area. These seem like obvious connections to me. Paynesville and St. Cloud aren’t that far from St. Joseph and they are all in Sterns County. Thank you for your dedication to Jacob and the Wetterling Family!

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