Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

From southern Minnesota: Grieving Jacob Wetterling & the impact of his abduction September 5, 2016

Jacob Wetterling. Photo credit: Jacob Wetterling Resource Center

Jacob Wetterling. Photo credit: Jacob Wetterling Resource Center

HER WORDS STUNNED ME. Jacob Wetterling’s remains were found, my eldest daughter told me Saturday afternoon. I had been blissfully oblivious, enjoying the final long weekend of summer.

Some 122 miles to the northwest, a Central Minnesota family was grieving. And now a state is grieving at the news that Jacob’s remains were uncovered near a pasture of grazing cattle. The man suspected in the 11-year-old’s abduction reportedly directed investigators to the pastoral site last week.

On October 22, 1989, a masked gunman grabbed Jacob, who was biking with his brother and best friend to a convenience store a half-mile from their rural St. Joseph home. His remains were found 30 miles away to the southwest just outside Paynesville.

The 1989 crime rocked our state. And the nation. For 27 years, we hoped along with Jacob’s parents, Jerry and Patty Wetterling, that their son would return home alive. Jacob’s abduction forever changed us.

I was a young mom at the time with two daughters, ages 3 ½ and nearly two. I remember teaching them to kick and scream and to run. Run. Run. Run. I remember wrapping my arms around my eldest, role-playing an abductor. She remembers none of those lessons. For that I am grateful, that I did not emotionally scar her with the fear I felt following Jacob’s disappearance.

If a stranger could snatch a pre-teen boy biking in rural Minnesota, surely no place, no child, was safe.

Mayberry innocence vanished on the day Jacob vanished.

But, led by Jacob’s mom, Patty Wetterling, we held onto hope. Hope that Jacob would be found alive. As the days passed, then the weeks, months, years and decades, the reality of Jacob ever coming safely home seemed less likely. Still, we hoped, because hope is easier than believing otherwise.

FYI: Click here to learn how a Central Minnesota blogger, Joy Baker, investigated decades old crimes she believed were linked to Jacob Wetterling’s abduction. Her efforts prove that sometimes you have to follow your gut and pursue opportunities presented to you to find the truth.

© Copyright 2016 Audrey Kletscher Helbling