Finding the Ocean – Interrupted

Before I continue my “Finding the Ocean” story, I feel the need to share a few quick thoughts about the press conference and subsequent release of the Jacob Wetterling case file that happened last Thursday, September 20th.

Mostly what I want to say is… wow. That was really hard.

I’ve been sharing this story about my random 2017 road trip because it was something good and happy that turned out to be a very healing journey for me. It brought me peace and helped me replace all those bad Labor Day memories with good, happy ones. However, last week was a jarring reminder of why I’d wanted to take off in the first place. It was hard to relive and remember. In fact, it was like ripping the Band-Aid off all over again.

We have all struggled with the release of this case file… for obvious and different reasons. From my end, I dreaded to think what tips I might have shared in private that were now to be made public. It makes me wonder why anyone would EVER want to submit a tip in a criminal case, knowing their personal (and sometimes painful) information might eventually become public. These were good people who did the right thing. They responded to our pleas for help and shared their tips in good faith. Is it fair to them that their personal information should now become a part of the public record? In some cases, is that even safe?

As it turns out, very few of the tips I submitted to the Stearns County Sheriff’s Office ever made it into the case file. While I’m happy and relieved about that, it does make me wonder why. It also makes me wonder about the Paynesville incidents. They have referred to “eight cases.” Of those eight, Jared and I knew about five of them. That means there were another five cases we found on our own. That makes at least 13 Paynesville incidents in all. Heinrich said he was “involved in a couple, but not all of them.” What does that mean? Was someone else involved? I really don’t even want to think about what that might mean.

As for the press conference itself, I watched the entire thing in shock… with tears running down my cheeks much of the time. Never in a million years did I expect the new Stearns County Sheriff to lay it all out there like that… slide by slide, mistake by mistake, missed opportunity by missed opportunity. While I was happy to hear him admit fault and take responsibility, I thought it was completely unfair to “name names” and throw people under the bus the way he did. Yes, mistakes were made, but it’s not like those early investigators weren’t doing everything humanly possible to solve this case. They cared deeply and tried as hard as they could to bring Jacob home to his family. I felt that was unnecessary and unkind.

When the press conference ended, I was overcome by emotion. It was all just so heartbreaking. I couldn’t help but think, if they had just LISTENED to those Paynesville kids… if they just would have tried something, ANYTHING, to catch that guy… Jared and Jacob would have never been abducted in the first place. How incredibly sad and heartbreaking.

Now, I just want this to be over. More than anything, I just want peace for the Wetterlings, for Jared, for Paynesville, and for Dan Rassier. This has been such a long, hard journey, and I continue to struggle with my role in all of it. When will it start to feel better? I so desperately want it to get better, but right now, it all still feels really bad.

For those of you have been following my “Finding the Ocean” story, I promise chapter 5 will be coming soon. I just really needed to get this off my chest first. Thanks for listening.

Next time… a “missing” poster and a new plan


  1. Painful! I would never consider opening any of the public files because it is not really the public’s business. My heart breaks for the Wetterling’s and all of you who worked so hard to help. Let this family be alone, while they try to heal.

  2. Joy, continue to move forward. You are a determined and strong woman, that was able to solve a great mystery that has haunted us all for far too many years. Continue to write. For you, I believe it to be the best medicine.

    Dr. David E Rich

  3. Thank you for all you did to help find Jacob. I can only imagine how hard this was with the release of so much information.

  4. Just heartbreaking to hear the mistakes and missed opportunities by officials trying to find Jacob . Now we kno that that monster ended Jacobs life very shortly after taking him . And even the best might not have been able to find him in such a short time . This monster should have been stopped months earlier .
    Joy, thanks for all that u have done to bring closure – even tho so sad .

  5. I was sorry that the personal information the Wetterlings wanted withheld was released with everything else. It just seemed so invasive to pry into someone’s personal interviews on the worst day of their life. So much of that information seems like it would be painful to people to open up again, and like you said Joy, maybe not even safe.

    I hope your writing will help you find the peace of mind you are looking for. You did good things, you helped, you listened to people and you made a difference. Good things are headed your way.

  6. Speaking as a retired police investigator with an agency in Dakota County, I was totally dismayed at how the current sheriff picked apart that case. He wasn’t sheriff at in Stearns County at the time of this horrible case. I believe, as Joy does, that the police, FBI, BCA and all the other agencies involved were trying their best to get to the truth, but unfortunately, the animal who did the crime was not cooperating at the time. We all know that without solid evidence, a case won’t be prosecuted. I am sure that all of the law enforcement people lost much sleep over this case. It takes a confession and evidence in a case like this. We can have all the circumstantial evidence but without a body, the case won’t be prosecuted or the defendant found guilty. I pray that all affected by this case find some peace.

  7. Thank you Joy and continue being the strong woman that you are.

  8. I am moved that Jacob’s story keeps taking current moments…maybe he is speaking to all who were so concerned and thanking them for the closure…he is still a bright light to all of us…..thank you Joy for never letting go…joan f winter

  9. Joy, While its important to honor our painful memories its so important to remember that they are but a part of a whole. You cant have the positives without the negatives. We just need to honor the final outcome.
    In this case a family finally got their son back and know what happened to him. So be mindful of that and the Wetterlings can continue their journey towards peace and with the help they provide others in similar situations.
    And know you fall on the side of the good guys. Take Care!!

  10. Dean Danielson |

    Thank you Joy for helping bring Jacob home and for letting us pray for the family and the search and the engagement of officials to find Jacob. Well done, good and faithful servant!

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