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.
After five days of hiking and camping along the Horn Creek Trail in the Sangre de Cristo mountain range, we returned to Snowy Peaks Campground in Buena Vista on Wednesday afternoon. Another former Trekker, Merrill, and his dog Macy were there to greet us with happy hour snacks and beer. Though I’d never met him, I could not have asked for a better friend. I’m quite sure fresh veggies, hummus, chips, salsa, and Coors Light had never tasted so good.
We all took hot showers and enjoyed a spaghetti dinner, followed by the most amazing sunset. I went to bed early and was finally able to get a decent night’s sleep before our big hike the next day.
After six days of acclimation, it had all come to this… Huron Peak. We woke up at daybreak, and after a quick grab-and-go breakfast of hard boiled eggs, fresh fruit and coffee, we each prepared a snack bag for the big climb. I chose trail mix, salted nut rolls, a Clif bar, and some M&Ms. Snack bag of champions.
Bill mentioned that the road leading up to Huron Peak was “a little rough,” so we left the Volvo behind and took off in Bill’s Jeep, Amy’s Land Rover, and Merrill’s 4-wheel drive pickup. As we turned off the main road and onto the gravel, the road got rougher and rougher. “This is the good part,” Bill kept saying as I popped more Dramamine. “So, when is the rough part?” I asked. “Oh, you’ll know,” he replied.
He wasn’t kidding. We passed some smaller trucks and cars that were parked at the “2-wheel drive trailhead” and continued on our way. Not long after, we reached what I thought was an impassable chunk of washed-out road and gullies. Bill put the Jeep in a different gear and said, “here’s the rough part.” I grabbed what my mother calls “the Jesus handle,” shut my eyes, and once again hoped for the best.
Somehow we made it, as did the rest of the entourage. We parked at the “4-wheel drive trailhead” and grabbed our day packs out of the trucks. This time, when Bill asked if I wanted to borrow a pair of hiking poles, I was quick to reply with a firm yes.
According to RockyMountainHikingTrails.com, Huron Peak is located in the Collegiate Peaks Wilderness Area of the San Isabel National Forest. It lies along the western edge of the Sawatch Range and is known for its spectacular views. Topping out at an elevation of “only” 14,003 feet, Huron Peak is ranked 52nd in height among all 53 fourteeners in Colorado. The only other 14,000-foot peak with a lower elevation is Sunshine Peak in the San Juan Mountains.
Just before starting out, I took a short video. The time was 8:44 AM.
I stared at the top of that mountain and knew I could make it. There was no doubt in my mind. I accepted the fact it might take me a little longer than the rest, but I was determined to make it… no turning back. More than anything, I wanted a picture of Jordan and me standing together at the summit of our first Fourteener.
So, off we went… up, up, up. I tried to keep up with Jerry for a while, but I lost him pretty quickly. Eventually I found my groove with Lucy, Merrill, and Macy (the dog). Jordan would also pop back to check on me every so often. I tried not to think about the fact that we’d be ascending 3500 feet, all in one day. Instead, I just kept putting one foot in front of the other and punching out a rhythm with my hiking poles. You’d think a person would get a lot of thinking done while they’re out there putting one foot in front of the other for 7 hours straight, but I don’t think I did. In fact, maybe that’s the beauty of mountain hiking… the sheer mindlessness of it. For me, I found it nearly impossible to carry on a meaningful conversation while I was gasping for breath, so it really became a mindless journey of mind over matter. Walk. Drink. Admire. Repeat.
Once we cleared the tree line, the views were absolutely breathtaking. It was a beautiful morning with crystal blue skies… a perfect day for hiking… or so I thought. Here’s a video two hours into our hike:
I made it to the basin where the trail evened-off for a bit and provided spectacular views of an alpine meadow covered in beautiful wildflowers. Michelle took the following gorgeous photo which still doesn’t quite do it justice:
It was about this time I ran out of water… and stamina. (Word to the wise… when the list says “Nalgene bottle,” get yourself a Nalgene bottle. At the very least, get yourself a decent water bottle with a wide mouth that holds more than 24 ounces and doesn’t squirt you in the face whenever you put a fizzy tablet into it.) I sat down to eat my Clif bar and admire the wildflowers (i.e., try not to die) and took the following video. The altitude must have been getting to me at this point, because it’s a little ridiculous how many times I say the word ridiculous.
Jordan popped back to check on me, and after a quick chat, I sent him on ahead. Lucy had also ventured ahead at this point, as well as Merrill and Macy, the dog. The sky was starting to look a little gloomy off in the distance, and without anyone having to say it, we realized we’d better keep moving if we were going to make the summit before the afternoon thunderstorms hit.
As for me, I was losing my groove. From the meadow, I could look up to the ridge and see all the people who had passed me along the way. They were as tiny as ants, marching their way up to the summit, and I thought… I’ll never make it. I finished my Clif bar and wished I had something… anything… to wash it down with.
Enter Bill. He and Amy caught up to me at this point and Bill offered me his spare Nalgene bottle filled with Gatorade. I could have kissed him. I took a good long gulp, stared at the tiny ant people on the ridge, and thought… I did not come this far to not make it. But I was going to need a little help. Desperate times call for desperate measures.
I pulled out the 70s music.
Yes, I said it. I love 70s music… the cheesier, the better. If I was going to make it to the top of this Fourteener, I was going to need my “Couch to 5K” playlist. It got me through two miles of jogging; surely it would get me to the top of Huron Peak.
Suddenly, I was in my happy place again. Amy led the way, with me in the middle and Bill pulling up the rear. One foot in front of the other. Like a Rhinestone Cowboy. Roll With the Changes. On and On. Sweet Life. Don’t Pull Your Love out on me Honey. I’m on the Top of the World.
As we neared the top, the terrain got rockier and the path got steeper. It was a little freaky (a lot freaky), but I just kept my head down and tried to concentrate on where to put my foot next. And then… lightning. Crap.
The storm clouds were gathering over the peaks behind us and in front of us. It seemed only a matter of time before they’d find Huron Peak, too. The rest of the gang had already made it to the summit and were wisely starting to head down. Lightning is nothing to mess with on a 14,000 foot mountain so I knew we had to turn around, but I was so disappointed. I was SOO close… just 300 feet from the summit. I’d come all that way, only to have to turn around at the very end.
I was very happy Jordan made it to the summit, and I’m pretty sure this will not be his last Fourteener. He seemed pretty hooked, and very much in his element.
As for me? Boy… yikes. That was all very hard and scary. But here’s one thing I know. I’ve never done anything so meaningful and rewarding in my entire life. I look back now and still can’t believe I actually did it.
After we returned home, Jerry Wetterling gave me a special gift which I absolutely love. It’s a framed print of all 53 “Fourteeners” in Colorado. I now have it sitting on a shelf in my living room so I can stare at it every day and marvel at the fact that I somehow survived. One down, 52 to go. Thanks Jerry!
Thanks also to everyone who followed me along on this journey, and to everyone who sent in a donation to support this year’s Wilderness Trek. As a group, we raised over $16,000… the most ever! All donations go to the Jacob Wetterling Resource Center to help with victim assistance and prevention programming to help keep our kids safe. I couldn’t be happier or more proud to support such an important and worthy cause.Read comments
Day 5 started with a bang.
After four days of getting very little sleep, Jordan and I both passed out from sheer exhaustion around 8pm. A few hours later, we were awakened by the sound of thunder and the beat of rain against the tent. Jordan, in a groggy stupor, remarked how impressed he was that our tent was holding up so well, considering he’d only paid $15 for it.
“Um, what?” I asked. He mumbled something about a Black Friday Christmas deal, then he rolled over and went back to sleep.
As I was contemplating this, I noticed a small triangular patch above my head where the tent fly had pulled away and the rain was starting to seep in. When the seep became a trickle, I briefly considered going outside to try and pull it back into place. But between the lightning and the marmots, I decided to stay put. I pulled my sleeping bag over my head and hoped the rocks I’d put over each of the tent stakes would keep the tent fly in place until morning.
It was another long night of not sleeping… for everyone. But, no worries. It was RECOVERY DAY and I couldn’t wait to start my recovery. I grabbed my “Life is Better at the Beach” cup and headed out for morning coffee.
We started Recovery Day with an awesome breakfast of homemade pancakes. This is another Wilderness Trek tradition and a favorite among the regular Trekkers. Jerry and Amy did the cooking, while the rest of us wolfed down pancakes as fast as they could make them. In lieu of butter, I decided to take Jerry’s advice and smear on a little peanut butter before the syrup. I admit it was not entirely terrible.
After breakfast, Amy mentioned something about gathering water in large Ziplock bags so we could lay them out in the hot sun and wash our hair later. It all sounded fabulous. I couldn’t wait to get my recovery on.
Not long after, Bill mentioned something about hiking up the grassy slope behind us so we could get acclimated to 13,000 feet. We were already camping at 11,800 feet, but the goal was to climb a bit higher each day in order to prepare ourselves for the big “Fourteener” hike on Thursday. I looked up at that beautiful grassy slope… in that beautiful morning sun… on a full stomach of peanut butter pancakes… and I thought to myself, well how hard can that be?
I should probably give you the lay of the land a bit here. Our camp site was located at the base of Mount Adams (east side) and the north side of Upper Horn Lake. If you click the icon in the upper right corner of the map below, you should be able to see a larger, topographical view of where we were.
Colorado is known for its 53 “Fourteeners,” or peaks with an elevation of at least 14,000 feet. Every year, the goal of the JWRC Wilderness Trekkers is to summit one of these 14er peaks. Little did I know that the beautiful stony peak just to the west of our camp site was Mount Adams, not quite a 14er at 13,937 feet, but impressive nonetheless. Our goal on this day was to climb the grassy slope up to the 13,200′ ridge which led to Mount Adams.
In my head, I prepared myself for a quick little hike, followed by a full day of pampering. I couldn’t wait to wash my hair in a Ziplock bag, catch up on my journaling, and maybe go hang my feet in Horn Lake. What a beautiful, perfect, mountainy kind of day.
After breakfast, we did the dishes, filled our water bottles, and packed some lunch items in our daypacks. Next, we marmot-proofed the food supply and prepared to head out. At the last minute, I popped a lemon-lime fizzy tablet (with electrolytes) into my water bottle for some extra energy along the way. Not that I needed it. Maybe it was the delirium after four days with very little sleep, but I was feeling pretty great and raring to go. I couldn’t wait to see the view from the top of that grassy ridge.
We headed out and soon discovered there was no clear-cut trail up to the ridge. We sent Jordan ahead… over some rocks and through some willow bushes… to see what he could see. While the rest of us waited, I grabbed my water bottle and pushed the button to take a drink. Suddenly, a stream of fizzy water shot out of the straw and into my face. It shocked me so much at first, I couldn’t figure out what had happened. I blinked, wiped my eyes… then laughed along with everyone else. Lesson learned. Fizzy tablets don’t work well in a Contigo bottle. I took a drink and put the bottle back in my bag.
We heard Jordan calling from somewhere above us, so we started bush-whacking our way toward his voice. It was only about 10am, but the sun was bright and it was already starting to get warm. Thankfully, we cleared the willow-bushes after a bit and lost the mosquitoes. We were happy to discover a stiff breeze up on the slope that helped to keep us cool. However, the breeze was so stiff that it was hard to stand upright without feeling like you were going to get blown over. To compensate, I found myself grabbing at rocks and grass clumps so I wouldn’t fall backward and go tumbling down the mountain.
The grassy slope was filled with beautiful wildflowers, which I stopped to admire often while gasping for breath. It was a glorious sunny day and the view was absolutely magnificent. I reached for my water bottle to take another sip of water and got another blast in the face. It was only my second sip of water since we’d started hiking, and already my bottle was less than half full. I reminded myself to unscrew the top first before taking another drink.
Driven by the fear of falling, Michelle and I continued to scramble our way up the grassy slope while the others were mostly able to maintain an upright position. I also noticed that the six people who had poles were making efficient zig-zags up the hill (switch backs) vs. going straight up on all fours like Michelle and I were doing. (Another lesson learned. When someone asks if you want to borrow a pair of poles, take them.)
Around 11am, we stopped for a break and I shot the following video.
I knew we were pretty high up, but I was amazed to see how far we were above our camp site. If you click on the following photo of Tim, you’ll see our tents WAY below on his right.
About an hour later, I realized how cool it would be if we could shoot a live Facebook video from this amazing location. I’d never done it before, so I asked Jordan if he knew how. He didn’t either, but he had it figured out in about five minutes or so. Jordan shot and posted this LIVE video on July 18, 2016 at 12:05pm. From this, you should be able to hear how hard the wind was blowing, and also how hard it was for even a 21 year old to breathe at 12,500 feet.
We reached 13,000 feet and decided to break for lunch. We each grabbed our daypacks and pulled out the bread, peanut butter, jelly, Nutella, leftover pancakes, and trail mix. As I pulled out my water bottle to take a drink, I shot myself in the face with a stream of water for the third and final time. Could not believe it… and now I had no water left for the rest of the hike up, or the hike down.
And, speaking of the hike down…
I sat there eating my peanut butter and jelly sandwich, staring at that 45 degree slope, wondering how in the world I was going to make it back down. Michelle was none too keen on heights and decided she was as close to the top as she wanted to get. While I was OK with the height, I was none too keen on the thin air and was more than happy to stay put. So, while the rest of the gang ventured upward toward the top of the ridge, we were happy as clams to sit and chat in the sunshine and admire the views.
Within a half hour or so, the rest of the Trekkers returned and it was time to head down. And what I thought had been hard and scary coming up the slope, was way harder and scarier going down. My thighs started to burn, my legs started to shake, and more often than not, Michelle and I found ourselves sliding down on our butts during the particularly hard and scary parts. (Again, I wished I’d taken Bill up on those poles.)
When we finally returned to camp, I was beyond spent. I knew I needed water, so I threw my daypack in the tent and started down toward the lake. Nothing seemed familiar and I couldn’t remember how to get down to the water, so after a few futile attempts, I just sat on a rock and waited for someone to come by. I was moments away from tears when Joan finally came smiling through the willow bushes carrying her empty bottle. She showed me the way down to the lake, and we crossed the rocks to get out to the deeper water. I filled my bottle, threw in an iodine pill, and checked my cell phone so I would know exactly when my 30 minute waiting period was up so I could drink the water. I stayed on the rock, waiting. After six minutes, I decided to take my chances with dysentery and giardia and drank the whole bottle. I filled it up again and headed back to camp for another iodine pill.
I crawled into my tent and tried to recover from Recovery Day. I was in sorry shape… weak, shaky, nauseous. I wasn’t sure if it was from altitude, exertion, dehydration, or just plain exhaustion. But whatever the case, I had hit the wall.
I didn’t make it out for Ziplock hair washing, and I didn’t make it out for tea. I closed my eyes and tried hard to fall asleep, but again, it didn’t happen.
At some point, Jordan came in to put on his rain gear because it had started to rain. He told me dinner was ready, so I also got my rain suit on and headed out to join the rest of the group for bean and rice burritos. I wasn’t hungry, but knew I needed to eat. It was a good decision, and pretty soon I began to feel infinitely better.
After dinner, we once again lamented the fire ban that prevented us from having a camp fire, so we decided to pack it in early and head to our tents. At the last minute, Jordan decided to put a few more rocks over the tent stakes, just to make sure our tent fly stayed in place if it started to thunderstorm again.
Another good decision.
That night, there was not only rain, and lightning, and thunder, but also this CRAZY WIND that is hard to describe. We could hear it building up speed as it reached the top of Mount Adams, then it would come howling down the canyon and hit our little camp site like a freight train. It happened over, and over, and over… like clockwork… every 3-4 minutes or so. Each time the Crazy Wind hit our $15 Black Friday special, the sides of our tent would collapse right on top of us. It was so ridiculous, it was almost funny. Once again, I just put my sleeping bag over my head and hoped for the best.
The next day, we made breakfast, broke camp, and headed back down to the Shangri-La Meadow. The Crazy Wind had blown so fiercely that once we hit the tree line, the trail was covered in fragrant green balsam needles. It was a beautiful hike, and other than my burning calves and the 40+ pound pack on my back, it was very enjoyable. I especially loved this view as Jordan walked ahead of me:Read comments
In my last post, I left off with a video of myself just after I had experienced my first wild animal encounter, all alone at the top of a mountain in the middle of the Colorado wilderness. I was completely terrified, wondering how many of those things were lurking in the willow bushes staring at me, and knowing Amy was just beyond those bushes and would be returning on that path at any moment.
With a little Photoshop wizardry, I tried to recreate the scene for you. First I took a screen shot from my video at about 00:20, then I added the scary creature in the spot he appeared, trying hard not to exaggerate its size.
Here’s what I came up with… click to see photo.
It turns out my wild creature is called a marmot… a yellow-bellied marmot to be exact. Pronounced “MAR-mit,” it belongs to the squirrel family and lives in mountainous regions. I had never even heard the word before, although I had noticed it in several places, like on my sleeping bag, and the backs of people’s rain jackets. Little did I know the company was named after a terrifying mountain squirrel. All along I’d been saying “mar-MOH,” thinking it was French. (By the way, here’s another vernacular tip for my fellow non-mountaineers… the word carabiner is pronounced cara-BEE-ner, not cara-BI-ner like I’ve always said. You can thank me now for saving you this embarrassment later. And if you don’t even know what I’m talking about, just move along.)
Now, back to the moment at hand. I’m sitting by myself, exhausted, terrified, wondering if Amy is ever coming back or whether the scary creature got her. Thankfully, she appeared just moments later, still carrying her empty water bottle. She reported that she could see the lake but couldn’t figure out how to get down to it. It was surrounded by willow bushes and rock ledges, so getting drinking water was turning out to be a challenge.
I told Amy about the huge scary creature. I said it stood at least 3 feet high (I was not kidding, though I admit it was standing on an incline) and it was right in the path where she had just returned. She wasn’t concerned in the least. She told me it was a marmot. No big deal, they’re harmless. The only problems they’ve ever had with them is when they ate the handles off their hiking poles.
Marmots were the furthest thing from Amy’s mind. She was intent on getting water and decided to try another path to the lake, this time in the other direction. Even though I was terrified to go back into those willow bushes, I was even more terrified to stay there alone again, so I followed along. We started up another path, but found it hard to believe it could be so far or difficult to get down to the water. Clearly other people had stayed at this camp site. How did they do it?
We returned to the camp site and sat down. She asked me how I was feeling. I said fine. She, however, was not fine. She was feeling a little confused and disoriented, and was worried she may be suffering the effects of altitude sickness. She said she wasn’t thinking clearly, and she needed my help.
In that moment, she looked at me and I looked at her, and I’m pretty sure we were both thinking the same thing. Holy crap. We are all each other’s got.
Then, Amy made a decision. We were going back down the mountain to the second creek crossing so we could get water and get back to a lower altitude. This was a serious situation. She told me to grab my day pack, rain suit, water bottle, and some snacks. We would wait for the others at the creek and then hike back up with them.
I did what she asked, but was a little shook. As we began our descent, I started in with a few questions. “So, what exactly are the symptoms of altitude sickness? You’re not going to pass out on me or anything, are you?”
She told me she might get confused, belligerent, or might start saying things that didn’t make any sense. If that happened, she would need my help to make good decisions. We crossed a tiny stream that trickled across the top of our path, and I told her I wanted to stop and fill my water bottle… just in case. She said not to drink that water… it was too close to the path and could be contaminated by animal feces. I decided to fill my water bottle anyway. I figured if she passed out, she wouldn’t care about a little animal feces in her water. We kept walking.
As concerning as this whole situation was, I was pleasantly surprised by how much I enjoyed going DOWN the mountain vs. up it. Without a 40+ pound pack on my back, I actually felt like I was floating. Perhaps I was also getting delirious, but it was all so enjoyable, I decided maybe I should start a new business for people who just want to get dropped off at the top of a mountain and go down instead of up. It was brilliant. I couldn’t wait to pitch the idea on Shark Tank.
We kept walking.
After about 30 minutes or so, we reached our destination and found Joan, Patrice, Lucy, Michelle, and Bill just coming across the creek. I think they were as happy to see us as we were to see them. The ladies were exhausted, and they wanted to know how much further it was to the top. Keep in mind, they had already hiked 2 1/2 miles back to the car from the Shagri-La Meadow to get the rest of the food, then another 2 1/2 miles back up, THEN put on their heavy packs and climbed another 2 1/2 miles up to this point. At the end of the day, it would be an eight mile hike for them, and an elevation climb from 9,000 feet to 11,800 feet. I didn’t know how to break it to them that they still had another hour of climbing from where we were.
I just have to mention Bill here. He is 73 years old and only has one lung. As a child, he came down with a rare bronchial infection and had to have one of his lungs removed. However, this has not slowed him down one bit. Today, he is the only one who has never missed one single JWRC Wilderness Trek. He has been on mountain hikes and wilderness trips all over the world, including New Zealand, Australia, South Africa, and much of Europe. It was comforting to know we were with someone who had so much experience and so incredibly much stamina. While the rest of us were completely spent, it seemed Bill could go on forever.As for Amy, she was feeling much better at this point. We filled our water bottles at the creek, popped some iodine pills into the water, then began the long 30 minute wait before we could drink it. We took the ladies’ tents from their packs to help lighten their load a bit, then we started back up the mountain.
We finally made it back to the camp site around 5:30pm or so. Within a half hour, Tim, Jordan, and Jerry arrived with the daypacks full of food that Bill and the ladies had retrieved from the cars earlier in the day. We were shocked by how quickly they had made it back up the mountain again. Amy and I had passed them around 2:45pm or so, meaning they had made the whole round trip, six mile (steep!) hike in a little over three hours.
Bill wanted to get the tea going, so the rest of us headed down to find the water. After each arriving at the lake from a different direction, we finally settled on one path that seemed the most logical. It wasn’t easy. Every time we went for water it was a 15 minute process, but at least we figured out how to get there.
After dinner, we did the dishes and went straight to bed. I doubt it was even 7pm. I was looking forward to the next day, which Bill called our “recovery day.” I couldn’t wait. I thought I might take some time to write in my journal or figure out if my sleeping pad would work for a lake floaty. But, as I would soon learn, Bill’s idea of a recovery day and my idea of a recovery day were vastly different.
P.S. While I was Googling to find a picture of a yellow-bellied marmot, I came across the most amazing video from our friend Troy. Remember Troy? He was the day-hiker with the two dogs we had run into on the trail in my last post. On the exact same day we were hiking the Horn Lakes Trail (July 17, 2016), Troy was taking video which he posted to YouTube. This was such a great find, considering I had neither the will nor wherewithal to be taking many photos on my way up the trail. Also, I am so intrigued by the beautiful spot he stopped for lunch. I have no idea where that was, and it would have made filling our water bottles so much easier! Anyway, enjoy! Watch the video...Read comments
Day 4 of our JWRC Wilderness Trek found us waking up to a beautiful, crisp morning in our Shangri-La meadow. It had been a cold night, with temps probably dipping into the 40s. No worries though. Jordan had loaned me his super-warm, mummy-shaped sleeping bag, so I stayed plenty warm throughout the night. Not so for Jordan. He had brought along a super-tiny, light-weight sleeping bag, and he froze for the better part of the night. Good thing for Jordan though… Bill, our Trek leader had brought along extra sleeping bags, so we could just grab one for him when we went back to the trailhead to grab the rest of the food.
Oh yeah, that part.
I put on all the warmest things I owned and headed out to see what was shaking. After Bill filled my Tervis cup with some hot steaming coffee from the French press, I sat down and realized I was the only person there with a cup that said, “Life is better at the beach.” That concerned me a bit. I looked around at my fellow Trekkers and thought, who ARE these people? Are they INSANE? I am used to vacations where I sit on the beach and do nothing. Maybe read a book. Maybe go for a walk. Maybe take a swim. That’s about it. No heavy lifting involved.
But THESE people… they are FIT, and they do things. They know how to pack a backpack, pitch a tent, and make a cook stove out of some metal pieces that come in a tiny drawstring bag. I was starting to feel a little out of my element, and one thing I knew… there was no way on God’s green earth that I had the stamina to hike all the way back to the trailhead, get the food, hike back up to the Shangri-La meadow, and THEN put on my 40+ pound backpack, and hike another three miles up to the top of this mountain. I poured myself another cup of coffee and wondered how I was going to break it to them.
After a delicious breakfast of steel-cut oatmeal and dried fruit, we did our dishes and sat down to discuss a game plan. I finally admitted there was no way I could make all those trips… first down, then up, then further up. Instead, we decided that Bill would take Lucy, Joan, Patrice and Michelle back down to the cars for the food (and a warmer sleeping bag for Jordan), while Jerry, Jordan, Tim, Amy, and I would hike to the top, then come back to help. Such a good plan. We started off around 9am or so.
Holy hell. What I thought had been a hard hike the day before now seemed like a pleasure cruise. This part of the trail was even steeper and more difficult. We made it to the first water crossing which involved hiking across two fallen logs positioned about 8 feet above a fast-moving creek. I had no idea if I could do that. I watched Jordan and Tim scurry across and thought, well, how hard can it be? Actually, it wasn’t that hard… a little nerve-wracking maybe, but a nice little break from the constant goes-uppedness of the rest of the trail.
After this, we never saw Jerry, Jordan, or Tim again. They took off at hare-speed, while Amy and I chose to tortoise our way to the top. While I continued to put one foot in front of the other, I seriously started to question what I had gotten myself into. I did, however, marvel at the fact that I was actually doing it. I was climbing a mountain with a 40 pound pack on my back. I may not have felt like it, but in that moment, I was one of those people.
As I trudged along, I suddenly became aware of heavy panting behind me. I turned to see two dogs running up the trail and hoped they were friendly (er, domesticated). I asked Amy if we should be concerned, but just then we heard a whistle and the dogs retreated. It turns out they belonged to a hiker named Troy who was just out for a day hike. (Yes, apparently there are people who do this sort of thing for fun.) We chatted for a while, then he and his friendly dogs took off and were soon out of sight.
By the time Amy and I reached the second water crossing, I was pretty much spent. I was hot, thirsty, and out of water. I debated whether to fill my water bottle with the water from the stream, but we didn’t have any iodine tablets, so we decided to just keep moving and fill our water bottles once we reached the lake at the top.
We were above the tree line by now and had started to encounter a new set of obstacles… willow bushes. They had grown over the trail in places, so we had to do a fair amount of bush-whacking to get past them.
It was about this time we ran into Troy again. We asked if he had run into three guys at the top, and he said yes, he’d had a nice long conversation with them. They had set up camp in a nice meadow by the lake. It was “just up ahead.”
We continued our ascent, bush-whacking and mosquito-beating, wondering when we would ever run into Jerry, Jordan, and Tim. We had been hiking for almost six hours by this time, and we were both exhausted. We came up over another rise, and suddenly, there he was, standing atop a large rock formation. I wasn’t sure if it was Jordan or Jesus, but in that moment, I was just so happy to know the end was in sight… one way or another.
Jordan, Tim, and Jerry were on their way back down to the Shangri-La meadow to get the rest of the food. They told us that camp was about 200 yards ahead and they had lunch sitting out for us. Just two more football fields. I could make it. We bush-whacked our way through the last 200 yards and finally saw Jordan’s and my little red tent shining in the distance. I had never seen anything so beautiful in my life.
It was about 3pm when we finally arrived at the camp site. We threw off our packs and headed straight for the food. We each made ourselves a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, then moved on to the trail mix. We were both thirsty and out of water, so after resting for just a bit, Amy left to go check out the lake. I threw my backpack into our tent and started to unpack a few things. After a bit, I grabbed my water bottle and decided to go find Amy.
And this, my friends, is when I experienced my first wild animal encounter… all by myself, in the middle of the Colorado wilderness.
More soon…Read comments
If you read my last post, you know that I just returned from a 9 day hiking trip to the Colorado wilderness to raise money for the Jacob Wetterling Resource Center (JWRC). It was a very successful Trek which, so far, has raised over $16,000 for JWRC… the most ever! I was very honored to have been asked, and it was an incredibly rewarding experience for both me and my 21 year old son, Jordan, who accompanied me.
That being said, holy cow.
Colorado kicked my ass.
When I agreed to go on this year’s Trek, I knew there would be a certain amount of training I would have to do to get in shape. Here’s how that went.
I was already doing a pretty intense yoga class on Wednesday nights, so I figured that counted for something. I also started swimming laps at the middle school last winter, eventually working my way up to 1000 yards without stopping (plus flip turns!). This was quite a feat for me, and something I hadn’t done since high school. When the session ended last spring, I was feeling pretty dang proud of myself.
Next, I joined the Fitbit Step Challenge at work. The goal was to average 10,000-12,000 steps per day for four weeks. This may seem pretty easy for most people, but not so for a marketing person who sits behind a desk for the better part (all part) of a day. Many times, I found myself having to get up before work to take the dog for a walk, or doing loops around my neighborhood after dinner, just to get my steps in.
About three weeks before the Trek, I decided walking wasn’t good enough. It was helping to break in my new hiking shoes, but I realized my legs needed to be stronger, so I decided to start running. Let me be clear on this… I am not a runner. In fact, I hate running. My plan was to work my way through the “Couch to 5K” app, but I soon realized there wasn’t enough time to cram that in before I left for the Trek. Instead, I made myself a fun 70s playlist, and with a little help from my friends — Rupert Holmes, Cheap Trick, Neil Diamond, and Glen Campbell — I managed to work my way up to two miles without stopping.
Bring on the Wilderness.
After arriving in Buena Vista, Colorado and camping the first night at Snowy Peaks Campround, we were ready for our first big hike. We packed up our tents, loaded our backpacks, and headed about 25 miles south to the town of Salida. We had heard there was a forest fire along Hayden Pass, so our Trek leader, Bill, wanted to check with the Ranger station in Salida to get an update.
As we pulled into Salida, we discovered an entire tent city that had been set up for firefighters who were arriving from all over the U.S. to help fight the forest fire. On that day, there also happened to be a press conference taking place at the Ranger station. It was just beginning as we pulled in, so I dug out my iPhone and joined the media throng while the others found a helpful Ranger to discuss a game plan and consider their options.
As I left the press conference to join the rest of the gang, I was fully prepared to hear that we might not be able to complete our backpacking excursion. No such luck. We were pressing on toward Westcliffe… toward the fire. The plan was to hike the Horn Creek Trail, and the Ranger had assured us we would be safe. Just don’t stop your car along the road from Salida to Westcliffe, he told us. No gawkers allowed.
I must say, for all the fuss and hullabaloo, it didn’t look like much of a forest fire to me. Granted there were helicopters with water buckets flying around, and Smoky the Bear even made an appearance at the press conference, but I couldn’t see any flames or even black smoke. There were plumes of white smoke coming off the mountains, and you could definitely smell smoke in the air, but as far as forest fires go, it didn’t seem imminently scary. All good. On to Westcliffe and the Horn Creek Trail.
When we arrived in Westcliffe, we had a little time to grab some lunch and look around, so I wandered into a little outfitter store and bought myself a pair of mountain-climber zip-off pants. It turns out they are all the rage in the mountains, and I was dying of heat in my black, lined wind pants. Another lesson learned.
As we pressed on to the trailhead at Horn Creek, I also learned we would need to help carry group items in our backpacks, along with what we already had packed. These items included food, pots, pans, etc.
Gulp. Was not prepared for that.
When we reached the trailhead, I got another lesson in lightening my backpack. Down vest… gone. Fuzzy tights… gone. Swimsuit… gone. Fork… gone. I was down to the bare essentials, and still my pack felt like a million pounds. We took a vote as to whether we should take ALL the group supplies with us at that moment, or come back down without packs the next day to retrieve the rest of the food. I voted to come back down the next day and even volunteered to do it… anything to make my current load a little lighter. I grabbed a roll of toilet paper from the group supplies, added it to my pack, and happily started on my way up the mountain.
I made it about half a city block and thought I was going to die.
At some point, when all I could do was just keep putting one foot in front of the other and hope my heart would not explode, I felt water dripping on me and couldn’t figure out where it was coming from. I kept thinking my water bottle was leaking, but to my utter amazement, I soon realized it was SWEAT. My own sweat. Who knew.
The other thing I was not prepared for (nor was anyone else) were the MOSQUITOS. They were crazy! Truly, I’ve never seen anything like it, not even in Minnesota. They were all over us at all times… so much so, that stopping for a rest was neither pleasant nor advised. Best to just keep moving… slow and steady… tortoise vs. hare.
For three miles and two hours straight, I kept putting one foot in front of the other and hoped I wouldn’t die. Somewhere along the way, we ran into some day hikers making their descent who told us there was a beautiful meadow just ahead. It was wide and grassy with wildflowers, and sat along a creek surrounded by aspens. It was all I could think about as I kept plodding along. Every time I turned a corner or came up over another rise, I searched for the Shangri-La Meadow. (As it turns out, the phrase “just up ahead” is a relative term for those super-fit hiker people… especially those that are heading downhill.)
We finally made it to the Shangri-La Meadow around 4:45 PM, and it truly was beautiful. We filled our water bottles at the creek, added iodine and neutralizer pills, then filled the cooking pots with water so our leader, Bill, could get the tea going.
“High tea” is a Wilderness Trek tradition that I really came to love. Every day after a strenuous hike, Bill would make us a big pot of tea… and every batch was a little different. Sometimes ginger, sometimes chamomile, sometimes who-knows-what. All I know is this… when you’re kind of dying and the thought of starting dinner is completely overwhelming, a little cup of tea goes a long way toward bolstering the spirit. Good tea makes good company. Another lesson learned.
Next, Bill and Amy made us homemade mac and cheese with chicken and spices mixed in. It was delicious. I was full, tired, and ready for bed. Because of the fire ban, we couldn’t have a campfire, so we all ended up rolling into our tents pretty early that night.
I went to bed feeling pretty proud that I had survived the first day’s hike. Little did I know the next day would be even harder… another three miles up the Horn Creek Trail, this time to 11,800 feet. And we still had to go back to get the rest of the food.
More soon.Read comments
Yesterday, I returned from a 9-day backpacking trip to the Sangre de Cristo Mountains in southern Colorado. It was the 23rd annual Wilderness Trek for the Jacob Wetterling Resource Center (JWRC) — a fundraiser that has raised more than $160,000 since 1994.
First, I am happy to report that my son Jordan and I reached our goal of raising $5,000 for JWRC! I had such a great time receiving all the checks in the mail and reading all your notes of encouragement. Thank you so much for believing in us and for supporting this amazing organization!
Second, I am OVER THE MOON to report that, with your support, JWRC received a record number of Trek donations this year! Donations continue to trickle in, so I will report back with a final number as soon as I hear. Your support will help JWRC continue to keep kids safe through prevention education. In 2015, JWRC trained 10,317 people at 110 different host sites. The Center also provided case management support to 36 new missing person cases in 2015, and 73 total cases with on-going support and advocacy.
If you’d still like to make a donation to the 2016 Wilderness Trek, go to https://foundation.gundersenhealth.org/protectkids and under “Designation,” please choose “Trek Donation – Jacob Wetterling Resource Center.”
Now, a little bit about the trip…
Last Thursday, July 14th, I took the day off work and started packing for the Trek. Having never done anything like this in my life, I enlisted Jordan’s help in packing my bag and culling any unnecessary items.
Once packed, we loaded the car and headed off to northeast Minneapolis for a send-off reception at the Jacob Wetterling Resource Center. Patty and Jerry were both there, along with their daughter, Carmen, and her two young daughters. They had each brought their teddy bears to show me that I didn’t need to be afraid of bears. (How cute is that?!)
This was the first time Jordan and I would meet the rest of the Trekkers, and I was curious to know who they were and how they had ended up on the Trek. Here’s what I was able to figure out:
Bill: Leader of the Wilderness Trek for the past 23 years. He is a retired school teacher and co-founder of Wilderness Inquiry, a non-profit adventure travel organization. For many years, he also organized fundraising treks for the American Lung Association.
Amy: A teacher/administrator with the Minneapolis School District, and an experienced mountain hiker. She has attended nearly every JWRC Wilderness Trek over the past 23 years and has worked with Bill on several other trips.
Duane: A Registered Nurse who works for the University of Minnesota’s Interventional Radiology Department. Unfortunately, he was unable to attend the Trek due to a sprained ankle, but he did attend the reception.
Lucy: Duane’s wife, and also a Registered Nurse. She is also the sister of Rick Hansen, who was instrumental in organizing the first Wilderness Trek in 1994. This was her second Trek.
Patrice: Another RN who works with Duane in the Interventional Radiology Department at the U of M. This was her first Trek.
Joan: A Nurse Practitioner from Forest Lake who also knows Duane. This was her second Trek.
Michelle: A teacher from Plymouth, and a friend of Amy’s. This was her first trek. (Coincidentally, I learned Michelle is also good friends with a friend of mine from high school. Small world.)
Tim: A retail manager from Blaine who played hockey and soccer with Jacob when they were young. Their families got to know each other through sports, and they all became close. Tim and his father, Gary, participated in several Treks together over the years until 2013 when Gary passed away from a sudden heart attack. Today, Tim continues to participate in the JWRC Wilderness Trek in his dad’s memory.
After the send-off reception, we loaded up a Jeep, a Volvo, and a Land Rover with our packs, then around 7pm, we hit the road.
Other than a few stops for food, bathroom breaks, and a broken sun roof in the Volvo, we drove straight through to Colorado and arrived at Snowy Peaks Campground in Buena Vista around 6pm on Friday, July 15th. Jerry and Patty’s son, Trevor, was there to meet us with his two young boys who live just outside of Denver. (They went to dinner with us and camped overnight, but didn’t join us on the Trek.) We were also met by Marty and Joan from Utah who did join us for the first part of the Trek. (Joan is a cousin of Duane’s.)
At this point in the game, I’m a little tired from the car ride, but none the worse for wear. I have absolutely no idea what I’m in store for over the next six days. Holy cow.
More soon.Read comments
So, this thing happened on Sunday.
It’s a little hard to explain and I’m still trying to make sense of it in my head. In fact, maybe it’s not the thing itself, but my reaction to it that has me so discombobulated. At any rate, I’m still feeling a little shook.
My husband Ross and I were in St. Joseph on Sunday, July 3rd to see Matt Vee perform a Neil Diamond tribute concert. I’m a huge Neil Diamond fan, and I think it is fair to say that Matt Vee (nephew of the legendary Bobby Vee) can sing Neil Diamond even better than Neil Diamond himself. He’s that good.
We got to town a little early so we could swing by and pick up a backpack that I’m borrowing from the Wetterlings for the Wilderness Trek next week. They were also planning to attend the concert, so we made plans to meet up with them later at the show.
We had some time before Matt Vee started, so Ross and I decided to wander around a bit and get the lay of the land. “Joetown Rocks” is a parish festival and fundraiser for the Church of Saint Joseph. In addition to the free outdoor concerts, there’s bingo, beer, bake sales, and many fun activities for the kids. All told, Joetown Rocks attracts between 18,000-20,000 people each year, and Sunday night, I would hazard a guess there were at least that many people sitting on lawn chairs in the church parking lot waiting to hear Matt Vee sing Neil Diamond.
After scarfing down a Joe Burger, Ross and I spotted Jerry in the crowd and visited with him for a little bit. Next we bought ourselves a container of homemade bars/candies and headed back to our seats to catch the end of the Queen tribute band that was onstage before Matt Vee. It was a beautiful night with temps in the 70s, low humidity, and no mosquitoes.
Matt Vee took the stage at 8:30 and he jumped right into the hits. Cracklin’ Rosie. Red Red Wine. Forever in Blue Jeans. His voice is like butter… smooth and rich… and pretty soon I found myself smack in the middle of my happy place. Summertime and 70s music. Ahhh.
And then… the thing.
After finishing one of his songs, Matt Vee paused for a moment while a police officer in a bright yellow security vest came on stage to make an announcement. He said two little girls were missing. One eight, one… seven? I strained to hear the details. One was wearing a black and white striped skirt. One was named Julia, or maybe Julianna? That was about all I caught.
I turned to Ross and said, “Oh shit.”
I can’t even tell you what songs came after that. I just kept waiting for them to announce that the girls had been found… no big deal. Have another beer. Thanks for your help.
But that didn’t happen. The band kept playing, people kept singing along, but that guy in the yellow vest never came back. And all I kept thinking was… not here, not now. Not this place. Not again.
I was sick with worry, not just for the parents of those two missing girls, but for the whole town… and for the Wetterlings. I couldn’t even bring myself to imagine what they might be thinking.
I waited. Still no announcement from that guy in the yellow vest.
Not here, not now. Not this place. Not again.
In that moment, all I could think about was my friend Shelly. In 1999, her 10 year old son Cody was struck and killed by a car while he was riding his bike near their home. For 17 years, we have helped the Berg family put on a one-mile fun run each July called the “Mill Pond Mile.” Cody loved to run, and the money raised from the race goes to support the Cody Berg Scholarship Fund.
About ten years ago, we were helping clean up after the race when suddenly there was a loud screeching of tires, a thump, and then screams. My neighbor’s son, Sam, had been hit by a car while he was trying to cross the street. He had been holding his mom’s hand, but then shot ahead to try and catch up to his brother and my son, who had crossed just ahead of him.
I dropped everything I was carrying and raced to help. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw Shelly crumple to the ground, and I remember thinking to myself, oh God.
Not here, not now. Not this place. Not again.
I waited with Sam and his mom until the ambulance came. Then I followed them to the hospital and waited in the emergency room, hoping, praying, and begging that Sam would be OK. It was the same emergency room where we had gathered back on April 12, 1999… the day Cody had been hit.
Not here, not now. Not this place. Not again.
After about an hour, Sam’s grandpa came out to tell me he would be fine. A few bumps and scratches, but all in all, an incredibly lucky boy.
As the minutes ticked by at the concert, I kept looking around, wondering if I should be doing something. Many of the people sitting back by us hadn’t even heard the announcement, so life was going on as usual. People were laughing, clapping, singing… I was a wreck. I headed to the bathroom and scanned the crowd for two little girls, one wearing a black and white striped skirt.
It was a pretty futile attempt. After about ten minutes, I headed back to my seat and waited some more. Finally, after what seemed like an eternity (probably 30-40 minutes), Matt Vee made the announcement that the two little girls had been found. The crowd broke out in applause. I exhaled and suddenly had tears streaming down my face.
As it turns out, by the time the guy in the yellow vest got on stage to make his original announcement, Patty had already left the concert to take her young grandkids home. She never even heard it… thank God for that.
As for the little girls, I don’t know any more details about how they got lost or how they were found. All I know is that this story has a happy ending, and for that, I’m so eternally grateful.
For the past two weeks, the best part of my day has been checking the mailbox when I get home from work. I love seeing all the return envelopes with checks inside made out to the Jacob Wetterling Resource Center. Every now and then, someone includes a little note of encouragement, which I especially love.
We’ve received checks from family, friends, neighbors, members of our church, and even complete strangers. So far, Jordan and I are about halfway to our $5,000 goal, and that doesn’t even include any online donations (still waiting to hear back on that total).
I have just two words… thank you!!
When I agreed to take part in this year’s Wilderness Trek for JWRC, I wasn’t quite sure what to expect. My family helped me stuff, stamp, and seal the envelopes, then I dropped them off at the Post Office and hoped for the best.
What a response! It’s so heartening to see how many people still care so very deeply about Jacob and his family. While we wait for answers, this is the one thing we can all do that will actually make a difference.
The Jacob Wetterling Resource Center focuses on prevention by teaching kids to be smart when it comes to their personal safety. They discuss the importance of checking first with parents or caregivers before going somewhere with another person, accepting gifts, or allowing someone to photograph them. While this may seem obvious to us as parents, it’s not obvious to kids, especially when the person is known to the child.
Equally important, JWRC teaches kids to hang out in groups, trust their instincts, and never keep secrets from their parents. The internet poses a particular threat, and parents play a pivotal role in understanding the traps and pitfalls that their children face online. JWRC provides this training, as well.
Clearly, the world is a safer place because of the Jacob Wetterling Resource Center, and I’m happy to support the cause.
Now, I just need to get in shape.
I have begun breaking in my new hiking shoes that my family gave me for Mother’s Day, and I joined the FitBit Challenge at work, trying to average at least 10,000 steps a day. My plan was to go on a 15 mile bike ride at least twice a week, but so far that hasn’t happened. I also had high hopes of making it through the Couch to 5K app before we leave, but I think it’s fair to say that isn’t going to happen either. Between graduation parties, weddings, showers, birthday parties, and work-related events, I dare say this may be as good as it gets. I guess I’ll just pack lots of Advil.
Now then, back to the discussion of bears. I have been given a great deal of sage advice since my last blog post. Here’s a bit of what I’ve learned.
- There are no bears in Colorado.
- It’s not the bears you need to worry about, it’s the mountain lions.
- It’s not the bears you need to worry about, it’s the rattlesnakes.
- A bear can outrun a racehorse.
- Bear spray is much more effective than a firearm, but make sure you don’t spray it into the wind (spoken from experience).
- Don’t go to bed smelling like bacon. Bears really like bacon.
- If you encounter a bear, make a lot of noise, raise your arms, and try to appear bigger than the bear.
- If you encounter a bear, do not make a lot of noise, retreat quietly, and never, under any circumstances, try to appear bigger than the bear.
My son Jordan has also tried to convince me that sleeping in a hammock tied between two trees is much more comfortable than sleeping in a tent. My question to him was, how does a bear know the difference between food hanging from a tree and a human hanging from a tree? Seems to me the bear is a winner either way.
And so, you can see I am still all sorts of confused when it comes to a potential bear encounter. I think I will just stop asking for advice and assume that the rest of the Trekkers have a far better handle on this subject than me.
I’d like to give a special shout out to Jerry Wetterling on this Father’s Day to thank him for coordinating 23 of these annual Wilderness Treks to help raise money for the Jacob Wetterling Resource Center. I cannot think of a better way to honor his son.
If you’d like to support this year’s Wilderness Trek, please make your donation by July 7th.
To donate online, go to https://foundation.gundersenhealth.org/protectkids. Under “Designation,” please choose “Trek Donation – Jacob Wetterling Resource Center,” and in the box that says “Special notes about this gift,” please add “Joy and Jordan.”
Checks can be made out to JWRC with TREK in the memo line. Mail to 16162 Golfview Rd NE, New London, MN 56273. If you’d like to receive a receipt, just let me know and I will get one to you. All donations to JWRC are 100% tax deductible.
Thank you!!Read comments
I apologize for my lapse in posts lately. Ever since Danny Heinrich was arrested last October 29th, there have been countless times I’ve wanted to write something, but just… didn’t. Like everyone, I have a million questions swirling in my head, but I’ve chosen to stay quiet during this waiting phase so the investigators can do their investigating and the lawyers can do their lawyering. But man, the wheels of justice can grind agonizingly slow!
On May 11th, Heinrich’s attorneys submitted their laundry list of pre-trial motions, which included a motion to suppress evidence found during the search of Heinrich’s home last summer, a motion to suppress incriminating statements Heinrich made during that search, and a motion for a change of venue, preferably out of state.
On June 1st, federal prosecutors responded to the defense’s motions with a 46 page document, explaining why none of the evidence/statements should be suppressed and laying out in detail why Danny Heinrich is considered a person of interest in Jacob Wetterling’s kidnapping. It also makes strong connections to Jared’s assault and the Paynesville attacks. If you haven’t already, take a look for yourself. The court document makes for compelling reading, and I encourage you to read it and leave your own comments below. Here’s a link where you can download it on WCCO’s web site:
And, of course, there was another monumental court filing made last month. Jared Scheierl took advantage of the Minnesota Child Victim’s Act to sue Danny Heinrich in civil court. Under this act, which started May 24, 2013, adult survivors of childhood sex abuse had a three-year window of opportunity to file suit against their abusers in civil court. On May 11th, Jared and his attorneys charged Heinrich with one count of sexual battery and one count of false imprisonment. He seeks damages in excess of $50,000, yet realizes he will likely see none of it. For him, it’s about answers, and justice, and the chance to looks his assailant in the eye. But he’ll have to wait until Heinrich’s child pornography trial is over, which will start on July 11th… if all goes as planned.
So, we wait some more.
But in the mean time, I have something new and exciting to write about. From July 14-23, my son Jordan and I will be joining Jerry Wetterling and his annual group of trekkers on the 23rd Annual Wilderness Trek for JWRC. In spite of my irrational fear of grizzly bears and chipmunks (and not necessarily in that order), I’m actually going to do this thing!
Last year, I interviewed Jerry about the Wilderness Trek, along with Bill Simpson (Trek Leader) and Alison Feigh (Program Manager for the Jacob Wetterling Resource Center). (Read the interview here…) At that time, Jerry had just asked me to go along on last year’s trek, but I had a thousand reasons why I couldn’t go (mostly the grizzly/chipmunk thing). But this year, when he asked again, I said of course. Why not! How hard can it be!So, on July 14th, Jordan and I will join 10-12 other trekkers on a van ride to Salida, Colorado where we will be “Trekking for Hope” in order to raise money for the Jacob Wetterling Resource Center. We will be beginning in the Buena Vista area and ending with the plan of climbing one of the many 14,000 ft peaks in the area.
Bill Simpson is our trek leader and has years of wilderness adventure experience. He donates his time and expertise to lead the trek and in return he asks all participants to collect pledges, which directly benefit the Center. Each of us pays our own expenses such as food, gas, first aid supplies etc.
Jordan and I have a goal of raising $5,000 for this year’s Trek fundraiser. As you all know, this has been a trying year for the Wetterlings, as well as Jared, and all the Paynesville victims. Last November, when we put together an informational meeting for the residents of Paynesville, the Jacob Wetterling Resource Center responded to the call. They made the two hour drive in the fog and were there to provide resources for families, residents, and victims. In fact, they are always there, with a a 24/7 Victim Assistance Helpline for families and communities around issues related to missing persons, abuse and exploitation.
What many people don’t realize is that Jerry and Patty Wetterling started the Jacob Wetterling Foundation on Jacob’s 12th birthday – February 17, 1990. It is a legacy of love… and hope… that continues to live on under the umbrella of the Gundersen National Child Protection Training Center.
In 2015, JWRC trained 10,317 people at 110 different host sites, a 19% increase of people trained in 2014. In addition, the Center provided case management support to 36 new missing person cases in 2015 and 73 total cases with on-going support and advocacy.
We’re hoping you’ll join us in supporting the Jacob Wetterling Resource Center by considering a donation to the 2016 Wilderness Trek!
To donate online, go to https://foundation.gundersenhealth.org/protectkids. Under “Designation,” please choose “Trek Donation – Jacob Wetterling Resource Center,” and in the box that says “Special notes about this gift,” please add “Joy and Jordan.”
Checks can be made out to JWRC with TREK in the memo line. Mail to 16162 Golfview Rd NE, New London, MN 56273. If you’d like to receive a receipt, just let me know and I will get one to you. All donations to JWRC are 100% tax deductible.
Donations are preferred to be received by July 7th.
Thank you so much for your consideration! Much more to come!Read comments
I’ve been sitting here for a good 20 minutes wondering how in the world to start this blog post. The truth is, I have no idea how to start. I cannot even begin to explain the swirl of thoughts and emotions going through my head right now.
On February 22nd, I received a letter from the Minnesota Coalition Against Sexual Assault (MNCASA). It started like this:
On behalf of the board of directors, staff and partner programs of the Minnesota Coalition Against Sexual Assault, I am pleased to notify you of your selection as an AWARE 2016 Award recipient. Each year MNCASA recognizes citizens, researchers, advocates and policy makers in conjunction with Sexual Assault Awareness Month (SAAM). Awardees are named for their individual creativity and perseverance to end sexual violence. We are honoring you for your work to shed light on unresolved issues of child sexual abuse that occurred decades ago. Because of your efforts, victims, who may have felt silenced, have had their voices heard and a perpetrator is being held accountable for harm.”
I believe there are those moments in each of our lives when you take pause, stand outside of yourself, and say, “Well, now. THAT was something.” For me, this was indeed, one of those moments.
In fact, it was SO MUCH “something” that I just couldn’t stop smiling. For days, I smiled through tears, bewilderment, and dare I say it… JOY. It was as if everything I had done… for all those reasons I could never explain… had all come down to this. Suddenly, it all made sense. And it was… deep.
All the phone calls, emails, questions, blog posts, tips, timelines, newspaper articles, Google lookups, trips to the library, and date nights with the microfilm reader had all… MATTERED. In the end, it was all 100% worth it.
You see, this wasn’t just a story about a cold case kidnapping. Somewhere along the line, it became a quest for answers… and for justice… for a group of boys who were never heard and barely believed. It wasn’t just about Paynesville, or Cold Spring, or St. Joseph. It was about KIDS… right here in my own backyard… who trusted and believed that they could bike to the store, camp in the woods, walk home from the pizza place, or give directions to a stranger… without fear for their personal safety. They were just KIDS, whose confidence was shook not only by the act itself, but by a system that seemed to ignore them.
We have to do better. And we ARE doing better, thanks in large part to organizations like MNCASA who are on the front lines every day, making a difference and advocating for victims.
We are doing better because of men like John Choi, Ron Latz, and Steve Simon who were also honored with a 2016 AWARE Award. Ramsey County Attorney John Choi was recognized for his leadership on the issue of sexual violence, particularly his work engaging men and boys. Senator Ron Latz and Secretary of State Steve Simon were both recognized for their leadership as the Chief Authors of the Minnesota Child Victims Act.
We are also doing better because of men like Jared Scheierl, whose bravery in sharing his own story helped shed light on the Paynesville assault cluster and made it OK for others to come forward. In so doing, Jared not only helped solve his own case, he also got a dangerous child predator off the street.
Finally, we are doing better because of the tireless efforts of one woman… a five-foot-one-inch GIANT named Patty Wetterling. Last night, Patty received MNCASA’s highest honor, the Visionary Voice Award, which recognizes the creativity and hard work of individuals around the country who have demonstrated outstanding work to end sexual violence.
From MNCASA’s Facebook page: “Patty Wetterling has been a source of hope and inspiration to victims and parents of children who have been sexually abused. Her tireless advocacy for primary prevention of sexual violence and rational sex offender management policies has made an indelible impact on the state and the nation. Through her many years as the Director of Sexual Violence Prevention for the Minnesota Department of Health, Patty advanced programming and policy in support of primary prevention in Minnesota. Her national efforts through the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children and the National Coalition to Prevent Child Sexual Abuse and Exploitation have helped shape policies and organizational practices to end child sexual abuse and exploitation.”
To be there in that room… among those giants… learning about all the amazing work that’s being done… watching Patty receive her award… listening to her wow the crowd with her wit, wisdom, and grace… Well, honestly… how do I put that into words?
Amazing? Awe-inspring? Mind-blowing? Nope… nothing quite touches it. If I had to choose one word, I guess it would be “aspiring.” Simply put, I aspire to their greatness… all of them… their collective passion, hope, bravery, kindness, and strength.
Thank you MNCASA… and Patty… and Jared… and all the other giants in the room.
You aspire me.Read comments
Last week, for Jacob’s 38th birthday, Patty Wetterling wrote a moving and emotional message to her son, promising him that she would never stop looking for him. The story was originally posted by the Jacob Wetterling Resource Center, and then quickly picked up by a host of other local and national media outlets.
I was happy to see that People Magazine even picked up the story. They were one of the first national magazines to cover Jacob’s abduction, and they’ve run several articles in the years since.
It was a good story. The reporter called to interview Patty personally, so there were additional details to run alongside the birthday letter. All good… except for one thing. There was one sentence that made me stop in my tracks and say… um, no. The average passerby probably wouldn’t have caught it. But I did.
In the article, it states, “Wetterling, who served on the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children’s board of directors for three years, says she will never stop searching for her son.”
The thing is… Patty Wetterling has served on the Board of Directors for the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children for the past TWENTY TWO years… not three. She was the first family victim to be appointed to the NCMEC board in 1993, and recently served as Board Chair from 2012-2015. She continues to serve as immediate Past Chair, traveling back and forth to Washington, D.C. on a regular basis.
When Patty’s term as Board Chair ended this past December, NCMEC presented her with a beautiful framed print in honor of her service to the Board. The number “11,654” sits boldly atop the images of 11,654 children who were recovered during Patty’s leadership at NCMEC from 2012-2015. The bronze plaque reads, “In grateful recognition and appreciation for your exceptional leadership and tenacious dedication to the protection of our children.”
What a legacy. And it doesn’t end there.
It actually started twenty six years ago, on February 17, 1990 — Jacob’s 12th birthday. That’s the day Jerry and Patty Wetterling founded the “Jacob Wetterling Foundation” (now the Jacob Wetterling Resource Center). In the agonizing months following Jacob’s abduction, Patty discovered a voice and a strength she never knew she had. She began speaking at schools, churches, and community groups, spreading her message of prevention, education, and hope. She has since gone on to become one of the nation’s leading advocates for missing and exploited children.
Because of Patty Wetterling’s efforts, Congress passed the Jacob Wetterling Act of 1994 which required states to implement a sex offender and crimes against children registry. She co-founded Team HOPE in 1998, a parent-to-parent mentoring and support group for families of other missing children. She co-authored a book, “When Your Child is Missing: A Family Survival Guide,” along with four other families. She has been honored as one of KARE-11 TV’s “Eleven Who Care” and was selected by the Minneapolis Star Tribune as one of the “100 Most Influential Minnesotans of the Century.” Most recently, she served as Director of Sexual Violence Prevention for the Minnesota Department of Health, retiring in May of 2015. She continues to make national speaking appearances, and serves as a consultant at child abuse conferences and law enforcement trainings.
Through it all, her focus has been to find Jacob. Until that day, she will continue searching. And hoping.
Tomorrow, February 17, 2016, will mark Jacob Wetterling’s 38th birthday. With permission, I’m sharing a special birthday message, written by his mom, Patty.
Happy Birthday Jacob!
Birthdays are supposed to be about parties, hats and noisemakers, cake, ice cream, friends singing and making wishes but not yet. Not this year, again. How I wish to wrap my arms around you and hug you tight! I have watched the tape of your last birthday party over and over. We rented a suite at the Holiday Inn for your party. You and Aaron raced back and forth in the pool and took turns throwing each other in the deep end. It was so much fun!
I want you to know that since you were stolen away from us, people everywhere have been searching, praying and hoping for your safety and for answers. Last fall, 26 years later, news of possible answers had your story as the number two news coverage in the region. That’s pretty amazing 26 years later. People care. There are more good people than bad in the world and people still hope.
My birthday wish is for you to come home. We need to find you. I have another wish for every child who is home safe today, that they will never have to endure abduction or sexual exploitation of any type. We are working just as hard on prevention as we are on searching because this is so wrong… so unfair. I remember how much it bothered you when things were unfair. Me too, it bothers me too.
I am hoping and praying that people will remember you on February 17 and we ask that everyone hug their kids a little tighter, tell them that they love them and take time to play a game or read books. My wish is also that parents will support agencies that help to find our missing kids and help other victims. Today, we ask everyone to volunteer, attend events, send financial support and share safety information. The non-profit work continues on a daily basis. Sometimes sexual exploitation and abduction are on the news, and sometimes not, yet we all rely on the support and expertise of these agencies when we need them. They are there for us. They need our support as well.
And once again today, February 17, we will light our candles, fix your favorite foods and cake, and thank God for the gift of you.
We love you Jacob and we’ll never stop searching for you!
I so wish for a happy birthday for you…
For more information, visit:
Jacob Wetterling Resource Center, www.JWRC.org
National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, www.missingkids.orgRead comments
One week ago, Patty and Jerry Wetterling hosted a community meeting for the residents of Paynesville titled, “Paynesville: Moving Forward.” It was meant to serve as a night of healing and sharing for both the Wetterlings and the Paynesville community who both found themselves “thrown together in a state of chaos” after the arrest of Danny Heinrich on October 29th.
It was a powerful night, and important on so many levels. It gave Paynesville Police Chief Paul Wegner a chance to instill confidence in his community, promising that what happened 30 years ago in Paynesville would not happen today. It gave Paynesville residents a chance to hear from Captain Pam Jensen of the Stearns County Sheriff’s Office, who gave a brief update and spelled out the kind of information they were looking for to help their case. It gave Jared a chance to see the amazing amount of support he has from the people in his community. And, it gave Patty a chance to do what she does best… to connect with people and advocate for a better, safer world.
It truly was a win-win for everyone involved.
That same night, I had also been asked by Jenna Ross, a reporter from the StarTribune, to sit down and share some thoughts for a follow-up article about me and my blog. I had previously commented on an article Jenna had written about the Paynesville victims, and they wanted to use some of my additional comments from that story for another article.
I knew I’d be busy the night of the meeting, so in an effort to save time, I decided to just write some quick answers to a few of Jenna’s questions. However, as I wrote, I quickly realized that none of her questions had a quick or simple answer.
I’m posting what I sent to Jenna below. I’m amazed that she was able to take what I wrote, along with input from Patty, Jared, and others, and craft it into a story that reveals how much Jacob’s case has meant to me over the past five years. This was truly a monumental task, given the sheer amount of reluctance and ambivalence I had going into this.
Thank you, Jenna, for your time, talent, and compassion. Thanks also to Renee Jones Schneider for her wonderful photos and videography.
The full story can be found here:
How I got started blogging about Jacob…
In 2011, I turned 44 years old and found myself teetering on the edge of a full-blown mid-life crisis. I was happily married, the mother of two teenage boys, and co-owner of my own business. Life was good, but like most 40-somethings, I started to question whether I was doing the right thing with the gifts I’d been given. I wanted to use my talents to make a difference in the world. The more I thought about it, the more it bugged me.
Writing has always been “my thing.” I graduated from the U of M in 1989 with a degree in Journalism and was hell-bent on getting a copywriting job at a big downtown ad agency. It didn’t happen. I ended up taking a job at a recruitment ad agency writing help-wanted ads. It was awful. After less than a year, I quit and had no idea what to do next.
Long story short, a college friend of mine invited me out to Spicer to do some freelance copywriting for her graphic design business over the summer. A few months later, I bought into the business and we co-founded our own ad agency. We did that for 20 years, and in 2011, I finally said… I need to write. I sold my half of the business, took a leap of faith, and waited for the net to appear.
By then, I had already been blogging for about a year and had found a huge passion for it. My first blog story was about a mysterious beach house I discovered on Longboat Key, Florida called “Villa am Meer.” It turned into an epic tale, and I gained several new followers as the story unfolded online.
Not long after that story came to a close, I was looking for a new mystery to write about and started wondering about Jacob. I had just begun researching his case when all of a sudden there was breaking news that authorities were digging at a farm property just up the road from the Wetterling house. The timing was so uncanny, I decided it must be a sign. I began researching the case with renewed interest. The big farm search yielded no new information, so on October 23, 2010, one day after the 21st anniversary of Jacob’s disappearance, I decided to drive up to St. Joseph to “get the lay of the land.” I’d never been there before in my life, even though it’s only a 40 minute drive from my house. I visited the site where the kidnapping took place, and felt… well, all kinds of things. I was sad, angry, horrified, confused. I thought about my own boys, and my heart absolutely ached for the Wetterling family. I stared at that spot and suddenly felt this overwhelming urge to understand exactly what happened there. I thought if I could just go back to the beginning and talk to people who had a direct connection to the case. maybe, just maybe… it might somehow help.
So, that’s what I did. I began blogging about Jacob’s case, and people started chiming in. I worked very hard at getting the facts straight and making sure the people I interviewed had a chance to review the information before I published it. Some were more receptive to talking to me than others. But, the more I wrote, the more people started noticing. One story led to another, and eventually I started to earn people’s trust.
How I met Patty…
I met Patty Wetterling at a charity fundraiser I attended for work. In November of 2012, I took a new job as the head of marketing and public relations for a local hospital. Much as I loved blogging, I quickly learned it didn’t pay the bills. My new position afforded me a way to continue doing what I loved and still put my sons through college.
Patty was the keynote speaker at the annual “Hope for Tomorrow Gala and Auction” for Safe Avenues in Willmar. Safe Avenues provides emergency housing for families of domestic violence, sexual assault and child abuse. I introduced myself to Patty just as she was preparing to leave. We exchanged cards and then spoke on the phone the next day. And that’s when everything got really “real.” I found myself on the phone with Jacob’s mom, trying hard to assure her that I was just a nice, normal person who cared very deeply about finding out what happened to her son. Even to myself, it sounded ridiculous. I hung up and thought. oh my God, she probably thinks I’m a stalker.
I was right. She did.
It wasn’t until after I found Jared that she finally put her foot down and went into “mama bear mode.” She was very honest with me about how it felt for her and her family to have a relative stranger come into their lives and start questioning people all around them. She was absolutely right… it made me feel like a real creeper. But, I didn’t know how to fix it. By then, I had already met Jared and shown him the article about the Paynesville incidents. He was all fired up and wanted answers. I had barely met Jared by then, but I could already tell there was no stopping that train.
But what to do about Patty. The only thing I could think to do was to tell her the truth. I wrote a very long email message that explained who I was, how I got here, and why I cared. Truth be told, I didn’t even know myself why I cared so much. All I knew is that what happened to Jacob, Jared, and all those Paynesville boys was NOT OK. It was simply NOT OK with me that someone had gotten away with this for all these years, and that they were STILL getting away with it. At the risk of sounding like a stark raving lunatic, I went on to explain that I felt I was somehow meant to help with this. I sent the message and waited for a restraining order.
Working with Jared…
Slowly, I started to earn Patty and Jerry’s trust. In time, I began to understand why they were so protective of Jared, because I suddenly found myself in the same boat. I became very protective of all the victims, wanting to protect their anonymity and their privacy. The last thing I wanted to do was re-victimize these young men, many of whom were still trying to make sense of what had happened to them.
Jared was the key to making this work. Whereas I tended to tread lightly, he was much bolder in his approach to finding victims and getting them to share their stories. He introduced himself as victim himself. He bravely laid it all out there, and people began responding to him. My role suddenly went from captain to scribe. He would make the initial contact, then refer people to me for follow-up. I took copious notes, and together we started to realize there were a lot more than just those original five incidents that were reported in the 1987 article of the Paynesville Press. I reported our findings on my blog on October 22, 2013… the 24th anniversary of Jacob’s abduction. However, it wasn’t until I put together a Google map showing all the different locations of the Paynesville incidents that things started to feel increasingly significant. And important.
Jared began working in earnest with investigators to try and get answers. My blog article about the Paynesville incidents led to an unexpected frenzy of news coverage. While investigators were quick to explain that the Paynesville incidents had already been investigated, it was evident that most people… including the Wetterlings themselves… knew nothing about them. I scoured archived newspaper articles and the only mention I ever found of these incidents was in the Paynesville Press itself. As far as I could tell, they were never mentioned by any other news media, neither before nor after Jacob’s abduction.
Where things are now…
Today, it’s hard to know what to think or do. Many people I’ve talked to over the past few years have reconnected with me recently to try and make sense of Danny Heinrich’s arrest. We are all rehashing what we know, and trying to connect dots that might somehow reveal a bigger picture. It’s paralyzing, really… this feeling that there’s nothing more I can do, and I must simply wait for the wheels of justice to turn slowly and agonizingly. But, I know there’s at least one other person who feels exactly the same way I do, and that’s Patty Wetterling. In fact, that’s how this community meeting with the residents of Paynesville came to be. It was an idea hatched from the simple need to do SOMETHING. One thing I have learned about Patty over the years is that she is not one to sit back and wait for things to happen. Instead, she MAKES things happen. She views “hope” as a verb, not a noun. and with hope, comes action. So, today, I continue to hope… and pray… that the answers will come.
That moment when you say to yourself… it was all worth it.
Thank you Troy, Mark, Nathan, and others for sharing your stories in today’s Minneapolis StarTribune. What happened to you was not OK, and you deserved better.
Thank you Jenna Ross, Pam Louwagie, and Renee Jones Schneider for your sensitive and responsible reporting of this important story.Read comments
It’s been a little over a week since authorities announced they had DNA evidence — a 100% match — that proved Danny Heinrich from Paynesville is the man who abducted and assaulted 12 year old Jared from Cold Spring. That attack happened just 9 months prior to Jacob Wetterling’s abduction, leading authorities to now name Heinrich an official Person of Interest in Jacob’s case. In all likelihood, he was also the man responsible for the string of attacks on juvenile boys that took place in Paynesville between 1986-1989.
This news came as a huge shock, and for the past week, I’ve been reeling and trying to make sense of it all.
Over the past two and a half years, Jared has become a good friend. We talk often, compare notes, and generally keep each other sane. This has been an incredibly crazy journey for both of us, and it’s been nice to have a companion along for the ride.
Now, after all our endless hours of research, interviews, phone calls, texts, and emails, Jared finally has his guy. No question about it… a 100% match. The news is still sinking in, and it’s taken me over a week to really process it. Emotionally, I have been all over the place. Happy, sad, pissed, confused, exhausted… you name it. This is BIG CRAZY NEWS and it’s a lot to take in. Did we know about this guy? Yes. Was he on our radar? Not really. I do remember mentioning to Jared that we should talk to him at one point. I think the conversation went something like this, “Well, what the heck. Let’s just go knock on his door and see what he has to say.” (And this, my friends, is why I’m in marketing and not police work.) Thank goodness for divine intervention and short attention spans; that interview never happened.
Emotion aside, I’ve also had a ton of questions swirling around in my head following Heinrich’s arrest. Here are just a few:
- What about the tire tracks? In 2003, Kevin came forward and said he’d driven through the crime scene and left his tire tracks in the driveway. After that, authorities said the tire tracks were now accounted for and they were, instead, looking for a local person who probably took Jacob on foot. But, now we know authorities matched Heinrich’s tires to the tracks left in the driveway way back in 1990. So, does that mean there were two sets of tire tracks? What the heck?
- In early reports, Jacob’s abductor was described to have been wearing black shoes or boots. Granted, the kids were scared and unsure, but they did say the man who took Jacob was dressed all in black. So, does it make sense then that he’d be wearing colored tennis shoes with white stripes? Who knows. But weird, right? Does that mean there might have been more than one abductor?
- How did Heinrich know the Kraemers? They were neighbors of Jared’s when he lived in Cold Spring, and that’s the name Heinrich used when he stopped to ask for directions. The Kraemers own Tom Kraemer, Inc., a name widely associated with rolloff dumpsters in our area. These dumpsters often appear at construction sites. Did Heinrich ever work construction, or for TKI? If not, why did he pick that name?
- Why Cold Spring? If Heinrich WAS the man responsible for the attacks on young boys in Paynesville, then what brought him to Cold Spring on that cold January night in 1989? Was he stalking Jared? Or, did he just happen to see a group of kids walking from the ice rink to the Side Cafe, and then waited to see if any of them would walk home alone?
- Why did he choose the place he did to assault Jared? Obviously, the guy was a planner… a cold, calculating POS who didn’t leave anything to chance. He doesn’t seem the type who would just grab a kid off the street and then say to himself, “OK then… now where to?” I’m sure he didn’t just happen upon that spot… but why there?
- In Jared’s case, the guy had a 4-door car with child proof locks in the back seat. The assault took place in the back seat. However, at the time Jacob was kidnapped, Heinrich owned a small 2-door car with no back seat. So, if he did take Jacob, where did they go? What happened?
And, this is where I start to fall apart. I can’t bring myself to “go there,” so I just stop. But, in order to solve this case, that is exactly the type of police work that needs to be done by people who are a lot better at it than me. As a mother of two boys myself, I simply can’t handle it. I am so eternally grateful for the people in law enforcement who are able to “go there” and do the work. I’m sure it is often a thankless job with long hours and little recognition, but I am personally so very thankful for the men and women who are doing the hard work to get answers for the Wetterling family.
In spite of all my questions and ruffling of feathers over the years, it was Jared who had the perseverance and fortitude to keep the investigation going, and it was ultimately a good piece of police work that finally cracked the case. And in all seriousness, none of that would have ever happened if the Wetterlings had not gotten involved and insisted that Stearns County, the FBI, the BCA, and the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children all come together to look at the bigger picture. As Patty said in her statement last week, “When good people pull together, amazing things happen.”
So then, good people, consider that your battle cry. If you knew Danny Heinrich or have any information you can share with investigators to help solve Jacob’s case, please call the Stearns County Sheriff’s Office at (320) 259-3700 or the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children at 1-800-THE-LOST.
Off the top of my head, here are a few questions that may be particularly helpful:
- Why St. Joseph? Other than his place of employment at the time (Fingerhut), did Heinrich have any other ties to the area?
- Why 91st Avenue? This is a quiet, dead-end road. What would have brought him there?
- Besides the Ford EXP, what other cars did Heinrich have access to in October 1989? What did his parents drive?
- If Danny Heinrich did take Jacob, where would he have brought him?
If you can think of more questions, please leave a comment and I’ll add to the list.
Once again, I cannot thank you enough for following me along on this journey. Five years ago, who knew any of this could actually make a difference. Looking back, well, just… wow.