25 Years

Wow… where to begin. It’s been such a whirlwind year, and I’ve been overwhelmed trying to decide how to write this blog post. It’s incredibly hard to put into words what the 25th anniversary of Jacob Wetterling’s abduction means to me. But, I definitely have some things to say, so here we go.

This Wednesday, October 22nd, will mark 25 years since Jacob Wetterling was taken at gunpoint from a rural road in St. Joseph, Minnesota. It was just after 9pm, and Jacob was returning home from a local convenience store where he had gone to rent a movie with his friend, Aaron, and his younger brother, Trevor. They were just a few blocks from home when a masked gunman stopped them, ordered them to put their bikes in the ditch and lie face-down on the ground. One by one, they were asked how old they were, then Trevor and Aaron were told, “Run toward the woods and don’t look back, or I’ll shoot.” When they got far enough away and dared to look back, Jacob and the gunman were gone. He has not been seen since.

This past Tuesday, six billboards went up in locations near Jacob’s abduction. They say “STILL MISSING” and show a picture of Jacob in 1989, along with an age-progressed picture of what he might look like today at age 36. They also include the number for the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, 1-800-THE-LOST. Anyone with a tip is encouraged to call the hotline. You may remain anonymous.

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Along with the billboards, the Stearns County Sheriff’s Office, together with Jerry and Patty Wetterling, the FBI, the BCA, and the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC) gave a joint press conference. Patty and Jerry both spoke, and we were encouraged by the words of John Ryan, President and Chief Executive Officer of NCMEC, who said that in a five year time span, from 2009-2013, over 160 kids had been found who had been missing between 11-20 years.

Wow. Wouldn’t that be something.

The fact that all these agencies are coming to the table after 25 years is both encouraging and hopeful. I think it is a testament to how active this case really has been, especially in the past year.

I also think there’s an interesting phenomenon that has started to occur. I didn’t catch it at first, but it started to gel after I was reviewing some of the comments and messages I’ve received on my blog over the past few years. It seems there’s a common phrase I keep hearing over and over, and it comes from a generation who is just now beginning to realize how much Jacob’s disappearance has impacted their lives. It goes something like this… “Now that I’m a parent myself…”

You see, these are Jacob’s peers who have been talking to me. They’re in their late 30s now, hovering toward that monumental 40th birthday. They’re busy chasing kids, life, and the American dream. But, when they finally get a chance to slow down and reflect for a moment, I think they’re starting to realize something. At this point in their lives, they are now very close to the same age that Jerry and Patty Wetterling were when Jacob was taken. And for them, like all of us, that is an unbearable thought.

But something is different this go-round. This generation thinks and acts differently than any generation before them. They have something that is innate and instinctive to them. It’s called technology… and they know how to use it.

In the past few years (and the last year in particular), I have seen this investigation explode because of the power of the internet. From blogs and forums, to Facebook and Twitter, people are talking and sharing more than ever before. And more than that, they’re demanding answers.

Throughout the past year, I have seen victims reach out to other victims, encouraging each other to come forward and share their stories. For many, it’s the first time they’ve ever spoken openly about their experience. It is raw, and emotional, and hugely impactful. And while these memories are deeply painful for all of them, they have agreed to do it for the same reason… because now they are parents themselves.

We admire Patty and Jerry Wetterling for all they’ve done to make this world a better and safer place for our children. In 1990, they started a foundation in Jacob’s name to raise awareness about childhood abduction (now called the Jacob Wetterling Resource Center). They helped pass the Jacob Wetterling Act of 1994 which required states to implement a sex offender and crimes against children registry. They have reached out to other families of childhood abduction, and in 1998, helped found Team HOPE, a national support group for families of missing children. Today, Patty serves as the Director of Sexual Violence Prevention for the Minnesota Department of Health, and is also the Chair of the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children.

For these things and more, we admire and respect the Wetterlings. But it’s more than that. We also see them as parents, just like ourselves, so we grieve for them, hurt for them, and wish so badly there was something we could do to help.

The truth is, Jacob could have been any of our children. He was an 11 year old boy, doing what 11 year old boys do. He was taken from a kind and gracious family who loves him, and who did everything they knew to keep him safe. So, how does a boy like Jacob get taken from a small town like St. Joseph, on a country road that was just blocks from his home?

Not OK.

Not then, not now, not ever.

Jacob, we will never forget you, and we will never stop searching and demanding answers. As Minnesotans, we consider you one of our own… OUR son. Our Jacob.

The Jacob Wetterling Resource Center reminds you to keep your porch light on this Wednesday, October 22, and to also do something kind that helps build hope in our children. They offer a list of 25 suggestions you might try to honor Jacob and his family.

And, as always, please keep the tips and prayers coming. Thanks for #ThinkingJacob with me.

NEXT: From a former bulldog…

58 Comments

  1. Donavon Mickelson |

    Dave K; I am impressed with your way of thinking and I have been in Law Enforcement 31 plus years You have some good points that need to be looked at and I am going to add one more to your thoughts. This apt. was kiddie corner from a Catholic Church where a priest could very easily watch people come and go from that apt. Many crimes are committed by neighbors and I am mainly talking about men who will rape or sexually abuse the neighbor girl after watching her go by his home many times during the period of a year or more. Some are those who make obscene phone calls to them as soon as they enter their home. They might not talk but just breathe heavy. The Catholic Church near the apt. and the Catholic school in St.Joseph may have some type of connection and someone might know that connection. You point about a man in a mask inside a door might be a very vital point but then again he could have slipped the mask on and off very quickly. These points may not connect with Jacob but they are important to show that the man you are talking about is a definite stalker and has done it before.

  2. Donavon Mickelson |

    Dave K; I also forgot to mention that I too have also been concerned about the possibility of a connection with young hockey boys. It’s too bad that in those days there were not enough cameras around to show the entire crowd as it might have been very important.

  3. Donavan M, thanks for the comments. Evidently there is also some speculation as to possible Catholic connections in St Joseph, I’m not all that familiar with certain aspects of the surrounding area, I’m just going with what information I find available. I had also figured that the mask could easily be a quick on/quick off thing; but, at the same time, his presence in a doorway of that nature, for what reason(?)…. and the fact that he could have been caught with the mask; makes me think that he had some way of knowing what he was dealing with. I’d like to be able to just take at least some aspect(s) of his actions and see whether we can narrow down just something that seems to point in a certain direction. Also, thanks a lot for the compliment; I appreciate that a lot, coming from someone in law enforcement.

  4. Donavon Mickelson |

    In MOST cases, a perpetrator of a crime wears a mask because they know that their victim knows them already. There are many that wear a mask anyway but I still believe in Jacobs case, the boys knew who he was.

  5. I grew up in the Pleasant Acres development in St Joseph from the late 60’s thru mid 80’s. We grew up riding our bikes everywhere. When I was 11, I was allowed to bike on County Rd 2 all the way to Kays Kitchen near town. My friends and I biked everywhere and knew the roads like the backs of our hands. Every pothole, ditch, shortcut and we even rode in the dark and in the winter if roads were clear. It was as easy as breathing and as teenagers, we knew which headlights coming at us were local police cars and which were not. There was a curfew and we weren’t supposed to be out at night. Most kids I grew up with did this. The point I’m trying to make is, I believe the person who took Jacob was a local. He or she would know the backroads and farms well if he or she grew up there. We used to canoe on Watab lake and would follow the creek as far as it would go toward SJU. We would cross country ski across frozen lakes and farms. I could still navigate that area if I still lived there, I remember it so well. The perp probably did the same. I firmly believe it was a local. There wasn’t a lot to do indoors. No Internet and we didn’t even get cable until the early 80’s. If you grew up there, you spent much of your childhood outdoors.

    I also grew up skating at the ice arena in St. Cloud. Most kids I knew played hockey or figure skated and many worked at the rink. I worked for an ice rink in MD and one day a Sheriff deputy dropped by with a big binder of registered sex offenders and asked if we had seen any if them. He said ice rinks, parks and the library were extremely popular places for sex offenders to frequent because they could observe and blend in easily. I’ve always felt there was a connection here with Jacob and the arena. His dad sensed danger. His gut was most likely spot on.

    Mr Wetterling’s chiropractic business had a billboard on the highway from St Joe to St Cloud. His bearded face was plastered on it for years. I’ve always felt that maybe the perp was a client. That billboard made Jerry somewhat of a local celebrity. Maybe he saw a picture of Jerry’s kids in the office. Has anyone looked at his patients? Could it have been that during office chitchat, that Jerry mentioned he was going out that night? Or that there were hockey tryouts or other skating related talk. I’ve been to many doctors offices and have exchanged pleasantries with many doctors. It happens. You get to know your patients, build rapport and your personal life may leak out. My husband has photos of our kids in his office and I always have on my desk. Stalkers notice. Has LE looked at Jerry’s clients? They would have been local.

    I’m just throwing ideas out there. Jacob’s disappearance has always deeply troubled me and I know my thoughts are all over the place, but I feel they may be important. We were those kids biking, so to speak. We never thought we were in danger ever and our parents let us be kids and explore. My heart hurts knowing this happened to Jacob and I pray all the time he is found. I feel as a parent and as a mental health professional, that the perp is local and knew the area and routines well. My theory is plausible. Probably more plausible than it having been a perp from outside the area. Thanks for all you’ve done, Joy!!!!

  6. Donavon Mickelson |

    Smart Thinking Sarah.

  7. Sarah
    I have been thinking the same thing recently. Regarding the community knowing who Jerry was. And how well he really knew everyone that he met. How well do we really know our aquantences?? We don’t. I really think its gonna take some divine intervention to solve this case. And kudos to Joy!!

  8. Dear Joy,

    You made what I would’ve liked. Fortunately you live near the Wetterlings
    and had access to the info, Jared, etc. I’m happy Jacob is home. Congrats
    on your efforts and if you ever work in something similar I hope you
    are successful. After following this case, I finally found my peace.

    Best,

    Doug.

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