Posts by joy.the.curious
But yesterday… yesterday was different. This time, the victims were in the driver’s seat, and each one had a chance to speak their own truth. Jared, Aaron, Trevor, Carmen, Amy, Jerry, and Patty each delivered victim impact statements that were soul crushing, raw, and real. But it wasn’t all sad. The statements were also powerful, awe-inspiring, and strong. Many times, when I wasn’t choking back tears, I had to check myself so I wouldn’t jump up and clap.
Ross and I met the rest of the group in the café off the lobby at 9am. We waited as a U.S. Marshal checked our names off a list that the Wetterlings had provided for them. After passing through a metal detector and having our bags and belts checked, we took the elevator to the 15th floor and waited with about 60 other people. Patty and Jerry’s siblings were there, along with nieces, nephews, cousins, and close family friends. Aaron’s parents, Vic and Fran, were both there, along with Alison and Jane from the Jacob Wetterling Resource Center. I said hi to Jacob’s friend, Tim, from the Wilderness Trek, as well as Rochelle, the babysitter, who was watching Carmen the night the boys went to rent their video from the Tom Thumb.
Jared’s siblings were also there in full force… Belinda, Corey, Colby, and his identical twin brother, Jed. Beside them, six of the Paynesville victims/survivors had also come to show their support. They stood in quiet solidarity, waiting for their opportunity to not only catch a glimpse of Danny Heinrich, but also to begin their own journey toward healing.
About quarter to nine, a U.S. Marshal escorted us into the courtroom. Ross and I filed into the third bench on the left, surrounded by Jared’s siblings to the right of us and the ladies from JWRC on the left. Behind us, the Paynesville survivors and their significant others filled the entire row.
Once we were seated, members of the media were invited in and took their seats in the two benches directly in front of us. Law enforcement officers and other members of the media filled in the remaining benches along the back wall of the courtroom.
Just minutes before 9am, a door behind the judge’s bench opened and a U.S. Marshal led the Wetterling family, Jared, Aaron, and their significant others to the first bench on the right. Immediately after that, Danny Heinrich was escorted in from a door on the left and took his seat at a table in front of us, next to his attorneys.
Judge Tunheim entered and took his seat at the bench. He pounded his gavel, bringing the court in session.
He greeted the attorneys, then spoke directly to Danny Heinrich.
THE COURT: Mr. Heinrich, how are you today?
THE DEFENDANT: Fine.
Judge Tunheim then went through the sentencing guidelines for the child pornography charge and briefly addressed the details of the plea agreement.
Finally, the judge asked if there were victims who wished to speak.
MS. ALLYN: Yes, Your Honor.
Jared went first. With attorney Doug Kelley at his side, Jared stood cool as a cucumber, no notes, and spoke to the court.
JARED SCHEIERL: I came here today to give a statement, something I have been waiting for for a long time. At times I thought that this day may never come, but it’s here. We’re here today to hear the level of pain and trauma that Danny Heinrich has inflicted on a number of people through the course of 27 years or longer.
I have submitted a written statement as well that expresses a lot of details pertaining to the night that Danny Heinrich abducted me.
THE COURT: And I read your statement. I appreciated receiving it.
JARED SCHEIERL: And that being said, a victim of physical, verbal and sexual assault, I was left that night to deal with a lot of emotions, a lot of questions and trying to seek clarity in my own life along the way. That being said, a few years ago somebody came to me curious about trying to understand this complex case, and I agreed to share my thoughts, my feelings, my emotions, everything that is involved with all of this.
And through that process, I realized that there are a heck of a lot of people that generally care about the humanity or — humanity in our society and all that, but I’ve met a lot of amazing people along the way as well, and I’m grateful for those people that have come into my life and have given me the support and the reassurance and strength that I need to maintain a normal life. I recognize my blessings in life, and I choose to go through life having few regrets on the decisions that I make.
The idea that, after today, after hearing the testimonies and statements from the Wetterling family and also recognizing the other victims associated in all of this that aren’t being heard today, I can say that this is just one more step in gaining closure to an incident in my life that has defined me in many ways.
And to make it short, I understand that Danny Heinrich has an opportunity to speak to the Court today. I’ll have him know that I personally will be walking out at that time for the fact that he should know that the words that he had spoke to me on that evening haunted me for years, and I don’t choose to hear anything he wishes to say at this time. I would like him, on a final note, I would just simply like to say to him, there is nothing uncommon about common sense. I just wish you had more common sense, and that being said, I’ll step down.
Jared took his seat as Judge Tunheim invited Aaron Larson to speak next.
AARON LARSON: Good morning, Your Honor. Thank you. I first wanted to thank everyone who has been involved in helping us find Jacob, to the lawyers, to the law enforcement, to the media, to our friends and family, and especially to the Wetterlings. Because of you, the type of people that you all are, the type of son and brother that Jacob was, that all shows in how nobody ever stopped looking for Jacob. That is because of all of you. October 22nd, 1989, like any other night in life was a night of choices. The choices that Jacob, Trevor and I made to start that night were ones that every child should be able to make, to have fun, to enjoy your friends, to enjoy life. The choices that were made by Daniel Heinrich that night changed so many lives, so many wrong choices by him that caused heartache and sorrow for so many.
October 22nd, 1989, I consider that the end of my childhood. A 20-year sentence for Daniel Heinrich is a significant number for me. For 20 years I lived with a huge amount of guilt from the choices that were made from that night. I lived every day thinking I was the monster that night, I was the coward that left my friend, I was the coward that ran away. Every day I lived with believing that me running away was a choice. During all these years, every decision I made in life revolved around Jacob and the guilt I felt because I was still here. I was the last person who cared about Jacob to see him, to be right next to him, and I just left him.
I hated it. I hated how I left him. I was Jacob’s best friend, who became the kid who was with Jacob. To hear the kid who was with Jacob meant in my mind the kid who left Jacob. I heard this everywhere I went every day. It caused me to push people away, to be scared, to cry. I just wanted Jacob to come home so we could be best friends again, so his family could be happy, to stop the pain. On every October 22nd since 1989, I couldn’t handle the guilt. I felt miserable going to the Wetterlings because Jacob should be there with them, always holding back an apology because I didn’t know how to say I’m sorry that I’m still here that, that the wrong choice was made that night.
I left the state. I left the country. I just wanted to be gone. I just wanted to be Jacob’s best friend again. I couldn’t take being the kid who left Jacob. The choices that Daniel Heinrich made that night caused all of that. He took a beautiful, innocent life and attempted to ruin so many more. Because of this, I believe he should spend the rest of his life in prison. He is correct. He is just a man, an evil man that should be gone forever. I say, “Attempted to ruin so many more lives,” because he did not win. Evil does not win. He took Jacob from us that night but can never take away his spirit, his soul, his kindness that lives and carries on in so many people here today. In eleven years, I think Jacob taught us all so much about life, how to make a difference, how to be happy, how to make others happy. I still believe in this.
My kids will believe in this. There is evil out there every day, but the Jacob that is in all of us here today is stronger than that, is deeper than that and can overcome that. We have all shown this by never giving up looking for Jacob, never quitting. Life is hard, but Jacob showed us how great this hard life can be. Jacob and his spirit wins every day, not evil.
I read Daniel Heinrich’s statement, and I could write a response to every statement he put to paper. Many people have asked me what I would say to him, and I have a hard time coming up with that, with what I would say to him, because I don’t think about him. I think about Jacob and what I would say to him.
I choose to concentrate on the good things in life, and that is Jacob. Every single person has had bad things happen to them in life. It’s how we choose to deal with these obstacles that determine the type of people that we will become.
Daniel Heinrich had obstacles in life. We all have. We all get to make choices on how to deal with those obstacles. He made the wrong choices. Because of this, I hope he does actually have feelings. I hope he sheds tears every day, feels the pain he caused to so many, waits for sympathy that will never come.
He is right. He is just a man. He is not a monster. A monster can continue to scare kids at night, continue to try and bring evil into the world. He is just a man that is going away forever.
In the beginning, I said 20 years was a significant number because this is how long it took me to come to terms with my guilt. This is how long it took me to realize that I didn’t have a choice that night, to realize that it wasn’t me that should be — should have been taken instead of Jacob. It was none of us. We were just kids who had no control over an evil man with a gun. After 20 years, I re-found the Jacob that I had in me before he was taken. I found the joy in life, the happiness that he always had in him. I realized that it was okay for me to be happy. Jacob would want me to be happy and to enjoy life. I realized it was okay for me to just be me, the Jacob — to be the Jacob — the me that Jacob loved, to not be the kid who left Jacob, but to be Jacob’s best friend.
I found a way to find him again. I chose this path. This choice led to life. Jacob lived life to the fullest every day. I intend to make the most of that. This choice led to me hearing I love you every day and me really believing it because it’s okay for me to be loved. It led to hearing the pitter-patter of little feet and the laughter of my children. I will fight every day to make sure that laughter never leaves.
When I am old, I want to be able to stand and feel that I made a difference, that I did my best to live life how Jacob taught me to live. He was an amazing teacher in those short eleven years. I hope we can all live to make a difference like he did.
On that dark night in 1989, evil came out, but the good in life prevails. The Jacob in all of us comes out every day. You can see it everywhere. You can see his happiness everywhere. This is what I see in life. I see him. I find him every day, and I always will. That night I thought I made a choice to run into the darkness. Now, I make that choice freely. If there is darkness and evil out there, I chose to bring light. I run towards the darkness because I know I have the strength in me to overcome the evil out there.
We all have this strength. We can all make a difference because we all have Jacob in us, because we are Jacob’s hope.
Aaron brought down the house. Even the judge had to wipe a tear from his eye and struggled to retain his composure after Aaron finished.
Next, each of Jacob’s siblings had a chance to address the court with their victim’s impact statements. Trevor went first.
TREVOR: Good morning, Your Honor. I’m just going to go ahead and read my statement that I submitted.
October 22nd, 1989, changed my life forever. I was a ten-year-old boy with an older sister Amy and an older brother Jacob and a younger sister Carmen, and from the moment Jacob was taken, molested and murdered, my life was never the same.
The entire dynamic of having a brother was taken away. Losing Jacob was hard enough, but for this man to hold this secret for almost 27 years and continue to be free is, as Jacob would say, entirely not fair. I live close to Paynesville, and as much as my parents, family and friends tried to take away my fear, I still had the nightmare of not only having a gun pulled on me, but also having a huge weight of guilt because that night I was the one that pushed for us to bike to the store.
No matter how much you tell yourself it wasn’t your fault, it is always in the back of your mind. It is not normal for a ten-year-old to sleep on the floor of their parents’ room. It is not normal to miss so much school in the fourth grade to have to hire a tutor to catch you up to speed and have your parents lobby to the teacher not to hold you back.
It is not normal to avoid sleep-overs at friends’ houses because it so happened to be on the 22nd of August, and that in your little boy mind had — that the monster that took your brother is going to do it again to you. It is not normal for your entire identity to be stolen away and to be transformed into Jacob’s brother. It is not normal to have nightmares and night terrors about that night, but this time in your dreams, you are given the choice that it could be you or one of the other friends you were with, and you wake up screaming, scared and ashamed because you chose not to be taken.
It is not normal for a ten-year-old boy to request police officers to come back to their house and answer the phones because that made you feel safe. It is not normal to bike home from your friend’s house at night with your parents or your friend’s parents following you home with their lights on because you weren’t quite ready to do it alone.
On the night of October 22nd, 1989, the life that I knew was stolen and changed forever. This terrible horrible creature who thought it was okay to just steal another human being and then murder him out of his own fear of being caught is and will always be a threat to society. Any person that does not value another person’s life and at any time they feel that their back is against the wall and is willing to kill a child for no reason except to save themselves from being caught does not deserve to be free.
This monster was able to live free with his secret for almost 27 years, 9,815 days free without paying for what he did to my brother. He wasted hours upon hours of police, detectives and FBI agents’ time and money searching for a boy when he knew what he had done.
I will not feel safe if he is ever released from prison, and our society will not be safe, and it is my recommendation that since my brother’s life was ended at the age of eleven that his freedom be ended and that he is incarcerated for the remainder of his life.
Jacob’s younger sister, Carmen, took the podium next.
CARMEN: Good morning. When I was eight years old, my life changed forever. My big brother, Jacob was stolen away from us and was no where to be seen. I wish I would’ve begged those boys to stay home that night to make a home video rather than going out to rent one.
There are months that I can barely remember. It was a whirlwind of people everywhere, police and FBI in uniform answering our telephone, and news cameras with big lights in our driveway.
I sent my imaginary friends Abi and Aba out to look for him.
I missed a lot of school. When I did try to go to school, kids didn’t know what to say to me. When they did talk to me about Jacob, it wasn’t always kind. I remember one time having to leave Girl Scout camp early because another camper told me that Jacob was dead and our family should just stop looking.
I’m afraid of helicopters. Even to this day, when I hear the noise and I want to curl up in a blanket to snuggle with my family.
I can’t be alone. Trevor and I slept on our L-shaped couch every night together all through middle school and high school. When he went to college, I had a friend sleep over almost every night of the year. The same pattern continued until I was married.
It’s been hard to meet new people. “So, Where you from? How many brothers and sisters do you have?” That question was almost too hard to bear that it was often easier to stick with the friends who knew me when I was little.
I’m taken back to this nightmare every time the leaves start to change.
The time I spent hoping, praying, searching for my brother cannot be measured.
I love you Jacob. This was not your fault and you didn’t do anything wrong.
Jacob’s older sister, Amy, was the last of his siblings to speak.
AMY: Good morning, Your Honor. Thank you.
Recently our family learned what happened to my brother Jacob. On October 22nd, 1989, Danny Heinrich shot and killed him after he kidnapped and sexually molested him, my little brother who was kind and gentle to everyone he met.
After he had been molested, Jacob was cold and just wanted to go home to his family where he knew it was warm and safe. He thought he did something wrong. Hearing those details was a horrific experience that I have not yet recovered from, and I don’t know that I ever will.
After having some time to process the events of the past weeks, I struggle with the fact that hearing those grewsome details, while absolutely devastating, is not the worst part about this. Not even close.
The worst part is that for nearly 27 years he let us believe that we would some day be able to see Jacob again. For nearly 27 years, he let me hold onto the image I had in my mind and in my dreams of Jacob running up the driveway back into our home to a huge group hug, with all of the people who loved him so much.
All the times our parents went on TV begging and pleading for answers, and he just watched. He watched us suffer through anniversary after anniversary. 27 years is a long time. He watched the community pull together for prayer services, balloon releases and candlelight vigils.
Now when I close my eyes at night, the image I see is that innocent, young boy cold and afraid in those last moments of his life. At the age of 13, my life was forever changed. My childhood ended because of what Danny Heinrich did. I felt I had to step up and help out around the house with my other brother and sister, while our parents did everything they could to find Jacob.
Dad worked to support our family, and mom traveled around the state and country working first to get Jacob’s story out, and later to help law enforcement in other communities learn how to work with victim families.
At a very young age, I helped out with driving Trevor and Carmen to school and their activities. I felt guilty dropping Carmen off at dance because I thought someone should stay with her and watch. I hated taking Trevor to school because I could tell how hard it was for him to go without his brother. This is a burden a teenager shouldn’t have to carry.
Now that I am married and have children of my own, I know that what Danny Heinrich to Jacob and my family has directly impacted my marriage and the way I parent my children. I have an adult life and responsibilities. Yet in so many ways, I am still that 13-year-old girl.
While I have no idea what my life would be like if Jacob had never been taken, I do know that it would have been without 27 years of pain directly caused by Danny Heinrich.
Amy struggled to fight back tears throughout her statement, pausing to take a moment here and there, then forging ahead. There wasn’t a dry eye in the courtroom as she returned to her seat.
MS. ALLYN: Your Honor, at this time the government would have Jerry Wetterling approach the podium.
THE COURT: Very well. Good morning, Mr. Wetterling.
JERRY WETTERLING: Thank you, Your Honor. Before I read my statement, I just, I want to express gratitude to literally everyone involved who has gotten us to this date, including Mr. Heinrich, for whatever reason coming forth and showing us where Jacob was.
Jacob’s abduction and murder by Danny Heinrich on October 22nd, 1989, has affected me way more than I could ever imagine. First of all, my chiropractic office business suffered greatly. My office has never approached the productivity numbers after the abduction as before. I stepped away from my practice totally for five weeks, after which I returned to the office one day per week for five weeks, after which I returned to work full time.
The first thing my staff in my Albany, Minnesota, office asked me upon my return was, Is it true that members of the Baha’i faith, which is my religion, sacrifice their firstborn males? That was a rumor which had been circulating around rural Stearns County.
In addition, many other people were pointing the finger at me as responsible for Jacob’s kidnapping because I didn’t show enough emotion during many media interviews. So not only was I in high emotional distress missing Jacob, I was looked at by many as being responsible.
It was extremely difficult to fully concentrate on my practice and my patients’ needs during the first years following Jacob’s abduction. I was frequently interrupted in my office with calls from law enforcement, people associated with Jacob Wetterling Foundation and phychics to mention a few. We spent thousands of dollars on phychics and private investigators, as well as lost potential income to today’s loss due to various search-related commitments and opportunities.
The sadness and stress caused by Jacob’s abduction was a strain on Patty’s and my relationship. We were both hurting so deeply that we couldn’t be there for each other as we normally would. Thus, we looked to other people for support, which didn’t help our relationship with each other. We survived that, but not without faith, great heartache and financial and time expenditures for counseling.
I lament for our other children because I wasn’t always there for them, due to something I was doing to further the search for Jacob. I miss Jacob so very much. He and my dad had birthdays five days apart in February. Jacob’s middle name, Irwin, was my dad’s first name. We often celebrated their birthdays together.
They both loved fishing and were both very good fishermen. My dad was never the same after Jacob’s abduction, and I believe it literally broke his heart.
It wasn’t just Jacob’s physical body that was missing these last 27 years. More importantly, I miss all the things I didn’t get to experience, laugh filled fishing outings, pride filled school events, such as music concerts, plays, sporting events, graduation, April Fool’s pranks, watching games together on TV and hearing Jacob make a comment and then have the TV commentator say the same thing seconds later, times hanging out with his friends, possibly going off to college.
I could keep going with multitudes of other commonly occurring life events. Since October 22nd, 1989, my common, overriding emotion could be summed up as sadness. Selfishly, this statement is only talking about Danny Heinrich’s actions affected me. Unfortunately, the ripple effect is exponentially greater because those actions have affected thousands of people.
Therefore, in the best interests of society, I strongly recommend that Mr. Heinrich be kept in civil commitment upon completion of his prison term. Thank you.
Again, Judge Tunheim had to wipe his eyes as Jerry finished his statement. Behind me, I could hear all of Paynesville falling apart.
Next, it was Patty’s turn. I braced myself for what I knew would be the hardest statement of the day.
THE COURT: Good morning, Ms. Wetterling.
PATTY WETTERLING: Good morning, Your Honor. Thank you so much for this opportunity.
It’s really difficult to describe impact when it has been so much a part of your life for so long. Words can’t express the magnitude of pain that Danny Heinrich has inflicted on me and my family every day of our lives since he hurt my heart, my soul, and every fiber of my being when he murdered our son Jacob, a child that I carried for nine months and nurtured for eleven years, eight months and five days.
Jacob was a boy with many gifts that the world will never realize because of this cruel and unnecessary murder. The pain that Heinrich inflicted on our family has interrupted my ability to parent our other children without fear, my ability to sleep without the nightmares of wondering what happened to Jacob, my ability to live the life that my family and I had worked so hard to build.
Jerry and I were minding our own lives, raising four wonderful children, teaching them to be fair and honest and kind when Danny Heinrich stole Jacob. My heart hurts. I miss Jacob’s touch, his smell, his freely given hugs. I miss his smile, his laughter, his jokes, his questions, his zest for life.
I miss him playing with our dog and dressing him up in football jerseys. I miss him playing football with the neighbors. I miss him coming home from school and complaining when something happened that wasn’t fair. He hated things that weren’t fair.
I miss him being a good sport when Amy and her friends were playing restaurant, and Jacob, Trevor and Carmen had to be customers and sit at fancy tables for tea parties. I miss his competitiveness with his brother when they would play, argue and then fall asleep, each with one arm wrapped around the other.
I miss him nurturing his little sister’s imaginary friends and using her foot for a microphone when we had long car rides. I miss him teasing and his pranks that he would pull. We hurt every day for all that we have missed.
My heart hurts for Jacob’s brother Trevor, for the fear he instilled in him that horrible night and for Aaron, who spent the next 26 years in fear, both of them dealing with so many questions, anxiety and anger trying to figure out what truly happened, wanting in part to wake up from this horrible nightmare, only to find out that it really did happen and Jacob was gone.
My heart hurts for our other children and that sadness and fear they had to navigate, missing their brother and figuring out how to grow up in a truly strange and difficult environment, taking on far too many responsibilities too early in life, just to keep things going, but continually wanting our warm and friendly world back.
Watching our children hurt was and continues to be unbearable. I can’t take it away, and I can’t explain how anyone could cause so much pain.
My heart hurts for our parents who spent their final years wondering, and they died, all of them not knowing.
For my sisters and brother and Jerry’s sisters who hurt so deeply over the loss of Jacob and for all of our children, grandchildren, nephews and nieces and the many tears they have shed for Jacob. Family reunions were difficult because of his absence. As we watched everyone grow up, we had to rely on a computer-generated age enhancement to predict what Jacob might have looked like.
My hurt hurts for Rochelle, who baby-sat and was a dear friend of all of ours, for Jacob’s classmates, friends and neighbors who all needed to rebuild their lives with a new set of rules.
My heart hurts for the many other victims of this man who will never experience justice.
My heart hurts for the entire St. Joseph community who had never experienced such darkness, who helped us to see the light of goodness and the millions of truly kind people who were praying and hoping right along for Jacob’s safe return.
My heart hurts for the people who searched for law enforcement, who investigated, parents who talked to their children and held them tighter and for an entire state and nation that strives for equality and justice and yet has had to face the most unfair and unjust act of all because of Heinrich’s actions on October 22nd, 1989.
Danny Heinrich took away a wonderful human being who cared deeply for family and friends and sports and music and theater and jokes, hugs and kisses, football and piggyback rides, a young boy, a kind and fun loving brother, who wanted to grow up to be a football player, but mostly who just wanted to grow up and live and contribute to making the world a better place.
My heart hurts for Jacob and all that he went through that last night. It keeps me awake at night.
I would like to say some comments directly to Danny Heinrich. You didn’t need to kill him. He did nothing wrong. He just wanted to go home.
Your attorney wrote that you play that night over and over in your head, but you knew. No, you planned to hurt someone that night. You didn’t just bring a gun to scare the boys. You brought bullets. Why would you bring bullets if not to use them?
I’m happy to hear that Jacob stopped you from ever victimizing another child. If I had one wish for you, it would be for you to see who Jacob was and to know the young boy you took from us and to feel, even for a second, what you did. You hurt a lot of people.
You continued to hurt us throughout the years, but in spite of the pain, you were wrong. Jacob didn’t die that night. He wasn’t ready to die. You know that. He refused to die, and his spirit has moved people all over the world, just as his jacket kept surfacing, at both the burial sites.
Jacob wasn’t going away, and we never gave up. He believed in goodness and fairness. All that he was and all that he stood for is so much stronger than your cowardice and fear.
We hold Jacob in our hearts, and we feel him every time something good happens, a smile, a hug, a helping hand, a rainbow. Jacob’s hope does live in all of us, and you can never take that away, ever. Not in 1989 when you did this and not in 2016 when you took him away all over again.
I will not wonder about you or waste a moment of my time concerning myself from this day forward. It’s my hope that when we all walk out of this courtroom, we’re leaving the negativity, the fear, the anger, the hopelessness, the confusion as best we can, and we’re taking Jacob with us, his hopes, his dreams, his smile, his laughter, his sense of fairness and all that is good that he stands for.
We truly stand together with the good people in this world who believe in Jacob’s hope and who never gave up.
There is nothing more I can add, except that I have come to love this family so incredibly much. I am so sorry for their pain, but also so grateful that Jacob is back with them once again, where he belongs.
Love. Peace. Respect.
#ThinkingJacob… today and always.Read comments
Back on September 14, 2014, I shared “Jennifer’s story.” It was an article about the 22 year old female college student who was working at the Tom Thumb convenience store the night Jacob Wetterling was abducted. She was the one who had rented the movie to Jacob that night, and was the last one to see him alive before he, his friend Aaron, and his younger brother, Trevor, were stopped by a masked gunman on their way home. It’s a night that has haunted Jennifer throughout her adult life.
Though I didn’t share it at the time, there is more to Jennifer’s story… and mine. Throughout this journey, I have often mentioned the striking number of coincidences I encountered along the way, many of which kept me going when things got hard. This is one of them.
In January 2013, when I started blogging about Jacob’s case (the second time), I made the conscious decision to stick to the facts and only interview people who had a direct connection to the case. One of the people I really wanted to talk to was the clerk who had been working at the Tom Thumb that night. I had put out an appeal, asking anyone who knew her to let her know I’d be interested in talking to her. I never heard back and assumed that angle was a dead end.
Several months later, I came across an article in the CSB/SJU student newspaper from 1998 titled, “Student remembers Wetterling anniversary.” In it, the author mentioned that when she was in 5th grade, her student teacher was the clerk at the Tom Thumb that night who was the last to see Jacob.
I contacted this author and asked if she would be willing to share the clerk’s name with me. She sent me a nice reply, but said she wasn’t sure if she should share the name with me or not. She said she would think about it and get back to me.
Eight months later, in March 2014, the author wrote back to me with the name of the clerk. I thanked her and promised I would proceed with integrity and respect. From there, I was able to find Jennifer’s email address, so I contacted her to see if she might be willing to talk to me. Understandably, she was very leery. I received a brief reply, but nothing more came of it. I moved on.
Another four months went by, and in July 2014, I was chatting with my aunt Carol on Facebook. Out of nowhere, she mentioned that Jennifer and her husband had just been over to her house for dinner. I about fell off my chair. As it turns out, my aunt Carol knew Jennifer because they had a mutual friend and attended the same church. For over a year, my aunt Carol had been encouraging Jennifer to contact me on her own, gently assuring her that I was a nice, normal, trustworthy person.
Two months later, Jennifer finally agreed to talk to me. It was September 1, 2014, one day after Jacob’s story had appeared on John Walsh’s new show — “The Hunt” — on CNN. My husband and I were moving our oldest son into his college apartment at Hamline University in St. Paul, and because Jennifer didn’t live too far from there, we had made plans to meet at her house.
The first thing I noticed when I entered Jennifer’s house was a beautiful grand piano. I asked her if she played, and she told me that the piano had originally belonged to a good friend of hers who had passed away from cancer. Before she died, she had told Jennifer (who is a very talented pianist) that she wanted her to have the piano. As it turns out, this is the same friend who had known my aunt Carol.
We sat down at Jennifer’s kitchen table, and over a cup of coffee, she told me her story. It was all still very raw, and before long, we both needed Kleenex. (If you haven’t yet read “Jennifer’s story,” I encourage you to do so.)
I published Jennifer’s story on my blog on September 14, 2014. A month later, on the 25th anniversary of Jacob’s abduction, the Wetterlings invited Jared and me to stop by their house so we could meet the rest of their family. It was the first time Jared and I had ever met any of the Wetterling children or their grandchildren. The whole day was hard, and emotional, and hugely impactful.
Then… the very next day… my aunt Carol died of a heart attack.
It was sudden and jolting and it knocked my whole world off kilter. Carol had been like a second mom to me when I was a little girl, and for as long as I can remember, she had lovingly fostered my love of reading and writing. I was asked to speak at her funeral, so within a few days, I found myself giving the eulogy at my aunt Carol’s church, with Jennifer and her family sitting in the congregation.
How do you explain these things?
Since that time, Jennifer and I have become friends. When the news broke early on September 3rd that Jacob’s remains had been found, it was Jennifer who called me first. We both cried, barely able to get words out. It had been almost two years to the day that we had first met.
Two weeks ago, Jennifer and I met again, this time to participate in the “Running HOME for Jacob 5K” at Lake Phalen Golf Course in St. Paul. It was the first-ever 5K for the Jacob Wetterling Resource Center and by all accounts, it was a resounding success. When they first organized the event over a year ago, they were hoping to get 250 participants. At last count, I believe the total was over 2,100.
There were many magical moments throughout the day, not the least of which was the weather. Saturday, October 22, 2016 was a perfect fall day in Minnesota with highs in the mid-60s, no wind, and beautiful fall colors as far as the eye could see. It was the 27th anniversary of Jacob’s abduction, and what would have been a very hard day for the Wetterlings and for our state, turned into something fun, positive, and healing for everyone who was in attendance.
Another magical moment happened at the end of the race. I took this video just as the entire Wetterling family was crossing the finish line. I happened to glance at the time, and if you can even believe it, the Wetterlings all crossed the finish line together at exactly 11:11 AM.
And then this. After 27 years, Jennifer, Aaron, and Trevor got to meet each other for the first time since that night in the Tom Thumb back in 1989. It was exactly 27 years to the day.
Jennifer shared these thoughts about the day:
Twenty-seven years ago tonight, these boys walked into the store where I was working. Trevor, Aaron, and their friend and brother Jacob Wetterling. I rented Jacob a video and sold him some candy. He was taken a few minutes later.
One trait to honor and remember Jacob with is “Be kind”. With everyone. As often as you can. We don’t know our futures.
Hope is one thing we have and cling to. Hope was watching people show up today to support the Jacob Wetterling Resource Center with the first 5K. Jerry Wetterling told us they were hoping for a few hundred, and more than two thousand showed up.
Jacob, your traits are everyone’s hope. I’ve known your story longer than I’ve been married, been a teacher, or been a mom. You’ve taught me, and us, so much. Rest in peace.
Such powerful words… such a powerful moment. Peace to everyone involved, and special thanks to the Jacob Wetterling Resource Center for helping make all these magical moments happen on what would have otherwise been a very sad day.
Hey peeps. Sorry for the long hiatus. I wish I could tell you I’ve been busy working on the next big thing, but the truth is, I’ve found myself in a weird limbo and I’m just starting to get a handle on everything that’s taken place in the past six weeks. It’s been a lot to absorb, and just when I think I have all the crazy tucked safely away, it bubbles up at the most random moments.
The other day, I came home from work to find a bunch of neighborhood boys playing football in the empty lot next to our house. I smiled as I recalled the days my own boys would play football in that lot with their friends. And then, out of nowhere, I was crying again.
I keep telling myself to get a grip. Stay focused. Suck it up buttercup. But, man… it’s been hard.
It helps to know I’m not alone in this. I’ve heard from so many others who have been grieving right alongside the Wetterlings. Even though we never knew Jacob, we FELT like we did. He was ours too… one of us… and what happened to him was so random and non-sensical, it could have happened to any one of our kids. That chord struck deep… and still does.
In response, we have circled our wagons around the Wetterling family, vowing to have their backs. The outpouring of support has been nothing short of amazing, and this has sustained them… truly. I don’t think I’ve ever been prouder to be a Minnesotan.
Last night, my husband and I had the privilege of attending the Minnesota Wild home opener along with Jared Scheierl’s family and the Wetterling family. Before the start of the game, the Minnesota Wild honored Jacob by having each of his family members, one by one, hold up a #11 hockey jersey with each of the eleven traits displayed on the back. It was so moving and powerful; the entire crowd gave them a standing ovation.
In addition, fan favorite Zach Parise (who just happens to wear number 11 for the Wild), announced that he and his wife Alisha were donating $11,000 to the Jacob Wetterling Resource Foundation in Jacob’s honor.
As I watch and absorb all the love and kindness that Jacob has generated throughout the state and around the world, it inspires me to keep going… to try and use this blog to make a difference.
I’ve been contacted by several others with missing loved ones who have written and asked for my help. And while I would love to say yes to each and every one of them, I’m just not sure I’m ready to jump in again quite yet. Maybe soon. But for now, I may need to write about something shallow and happy for a while. I hope you’ll bear with me.
In the meantime, I just want to say THANK YOU to everyone who has been following along and #ThinkingJacob with me for the past six years. I truly believe we all made a difference.Read comments
Today is Saturday, September 17, 2016. It’s been eleven days since I sat in that courtroom at the U.S. District Courthouse in Minneapolis and heard Danny Heinrich confess to the kidnapping and murder of Jacob Wetterling.
It’s been eleven days, and I still can’t think about it without crying.
Admittedly, I’ve been through some hard stuff in my lifetime. In 1999, two of my closest friends each lost a child. Cody was ten years old when he was struck and killed by a car while biking. Emma was two years old when she died from a cancerous brain tumor. As moms and friends, we clung to each other for strength and support. We questioned fate and silently waged our own battles with God. All of it was devastating and traumatizing. It changed who we were, forever.
But this. How do you explain this? It has taken me eleven days to get a grip, and still, I cry every time I think of that day. I sat there, three rows behind Patty, and had to listen to what that horrible man did to her son. I had to close my eyes through most of it, tears streaming down my face. I questioned why I had even come. I felt sick, wanted to leave… couldn’t believe what I was hearing.
Then, when Heinrich finished his confession about Jacob, he moved on to Jared. In chilling detail, he confessed what he had done to that scared 12 year old boy who has since become a close friend. Until that moment, I don’t think I fully appreciated how lucky Jared is to be alive.
After it was over, I couldn’t take anymore. I bolted. I didn’t stay for the press conference… I just couldn’t. I left and drove to my parents’ house where I crumbled into my mother’s arms. Even at 49, I needed her to hug me and make the world right again. We hugged and cried, then she made me a peanut butter and jelly sandwich… toasted… just how I like it. Later, she poured me a glass of wine and we cried some more.
Since that horrible day in the courtroom, I’ve struggled to make sense of everything that’s happened over the past few weeks… months… years. I look back over the entire journey and question how I ever ended up on this road in the first place. What started as mere curiosity eventually became a battle of faith and purpose. I plodded along, never knowing exactly where I was headed and wanting to quit more often than I care to admit.
Why? For Jacob.
This boy… this eleven year old boy that I’ve never met… captured my soul. He captured all of our souls with his smiling face, his yellow sweater, and his youthful innocence. He was a symbol for all that was right with the world… our world. It was a world of backyard sleepovers, bomb pops, and neighborhood water fights. Saturday cartoons, Vikings football, and Labor Day telethons. It was good, and predictable, and fun.
And then, on that awful day in 1989, our good and predictable world slipped away. We bumbled around, lamenting fate, losing faith, and becoming bitter. As the days melted into months, it seemed all hope had been lost. But then, a warrior emerged. She was a warrior who was willing to fight for our world… for bomb pops and water fights. She was tiny, but fierce, and we clung to her words, because she spoke of hope and change. If she was willing to fight, then by God, we would follow her into battle.
And follow, we did. We marveled at this tiny warrior and all that she stood for. She became Super Mom to us. She grew and effected change that rippled well beyond the borders of our own little state. She helped write powerful legislation that would eventually make the entire country safer for children. She fought, and she fought, and she fought, never once losing sight of her ultimate goal… to find her missing son.
Jacob, I never knew you, but I do know you came from good stuff. You must be so very proud of your mom. Her drive has always been fueled by hope, and she has fought tirelessly for the world you used to know. In fighting for you, she fought for all of us, every day. Looking back, I have to believe you’ve had a hand in all that’s transpired here. In your short eleven years, you also fought for what was right and fair. Today and forever, we will honor your legacy by trying to do the same.
You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives.
(Thank you sueney65 for passing that along.)
On Friday, September 2nd, law officials discovered the remains of Jacob Wetterling on a farm in Paynesville, Minnesota. Law officials were led there by Danny Heinrich, who was named a person of interest in Jacob’s case back on October 29, 2015 after being arrested on child pornography charges.
After nearly 27 years… it’s over.
Now that it’s here… now that Jacob has finally been found… there is no joy… just deep and profound sadness for this 11 year old boy who touched all our hearts for so many years. Yes, we have answers and, in time, that will bring peace. But for now it all just feels very raw and real.
Truth be told, I’m a wreck.
I was drawn to write about Jacob’s case for reasons I’ll never fully understand. The more I learned, the more I cared. The more I cared, the more I craved answers. Like every other Minnesotan who lived through the horror of his abduction, I wanted to know what happened to Jacob. And with each passing moment, it felt like time and opportunity were slipping away. I thought if I could just get his story out there, people might start paying attention. Maybe they could even add details that might help. More than anything, I just didn’t want people to forget.
I published my first blog post about Jacob’s story on October 23, 2010, one day after the 21st anniversary of his abduction. Read “Where are you Jacob?”…
After three weeks, I wrapped up Jacob’s story and may never have come back to it if it wasn’t for an email I received on January 18, 2013… over two years later. It read:
Hello Joy – My name appears in your articles. I’m working to clear lots of wrong info out there about me. Are you curious or do you care…?
Thanks…. if so…send a tele#?
– Dan Rassier
I wasn’t sure if I should reply or not, but there was one thing I did know. Yes… I cared. So, I emailed Dan back and we agreed to meet at 6:30pm at the St. Cloud Library on Tuesday, January 29, 2013. Had it not been for Dan getting in touch with me and sharing his story, I likely would never have gotten back to blogging about Jacob. I published Dan’s story on February 23, 2013, and since then, I’ve blogged about little else. Read Dan’s story…
This weekend, when I learned that Jacob had been found, I emailed Dan to let him know I was thinking of him. I wanted him to know that, for what it was worth, I had always believed him. I wished him and his family peace… they surely deserve it. He sent a very kind reply which meant a lot to me.
Over the past few days, I have been receiving emails, texts and phone calls from reporters all over the state, and even the country. There is one in particular who deserves a lot of credit in this amazing journey of discovery, and that is Esme Murphy from WCCO. She was the first person to really pay attention to what Jared and I were doing in Paynesville, and she contacted me shortly after I published my first blog post about the Paynesville attacks. It was October 22, 2013… the 24th anniversary of Jacob’s abduction. Not long after, Jared and I agreed to do an interview with Esme, which aired on May 14, 2014. See the interview…
I’d also like to acknowledge the countless others who have played a major role in this journey. I have received thousands of comments and private messages on my blog, along with hundreds of phone calls and texts from people passing along tips or suggestions about the case. I diligently organized and passed them along to law enforcement, never knowing if one of them might turn out to be the “the piece” that solved the puzzle. Thank you to everyone who cared, got involved, and took the initiative to pass those tips along. Who knows what may have been helpful along the way.
But without question, the one person who absolutely made the difference in bringing Jacob home was Jared Scheierl. He was the 12 year old boy from Cold Spring who was abducted and assaulted just nine months before Jacob. When I decided to dig back into this story back in early 2013, I wanted to focus on people who had a direct connection to the case. One of the people I knew I wanted to interview was Jared. I found him through ancestry records and then contacted him through Facebook. I never in a million years thought he would reply to my message. To this day, I am so very grateful that he did. Read Jared’s story…
Jared is one of the kindest and bravest people I know. He has become a good friend, and we have been through a lot together over the past three and a half years. When we first learned about the Paynesville attacks that took place in the late 1980s, it was Jared who willingly put himself out there, reaching out to victims and sharing his own story so that they might, in turn, be wiling to share their own. Without Jared, this story would never have unfolded the way it did. His enthusiasm and dogged determination were contagious. We found ourselves driven to find answers, not only for Jared and the Wetterlings, but also for all those young men who were never truly heard. The more we learned, the bigger it felt. Without knowing why, we were convinced that the Paynesville incidents were somehow important to the bigger picture.
In the end, it all came back to Paynesville… Jared’s hometown. The story started there, and it ended there. Jacob was found in Paynesville… a town just 15 miles up the road from me. Fifteen miles. He was buried in a spot that I have driven past countless times in my lifetime, never knowing that he was RIGHT THERE this whole time. Jacob and Jared were together in the same small town for the past 26 years.
How do you put words to that?
As hard as it is to give any credit to Danny Heinrich in this story, I’m just so incredibly grateful that, in the end, he did the right thing. Because of him, the healing can finally begin for the Wetterling family, and for the entire state. We have hurt, and hoped, and prayed alongside them for almost 27 years. Today, it’s finally over.
The Wetterlings have become like family to me, and I love them dearly. They are good, kind people who have changed the world because of their undying dedication to their missing son. Patty, especially, has worked tirelessly to fight for children’s rights, to educate parents, to train law enforcement, and to spread a message of love and hope that has resonated with us for all these 27 years. She did it for Jacob… Jacob’s Hope.
Today, I continue to pray for the Wetterlings. I’m sure there will be many more hard days to face in the weeks and months to come, but with answers, I hope they can finally start to grieve and heal. I will be forever grateful to them for believing in me.