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


13 Responses to “From southern Minnesota: Grieving Jacob Wetterling & the impact of his abduction”

  1. —I remember the day he was taken. My sister and I actually drove around to look for him. We even searched vacant buildings.

    I am wondering if there is EVER such a thing as closure.


    • I’ve been hearing that word, closure, a lot. And I don’t particularly like it.

      Thanks for sharing how Jacob’s story impacted you and your sister personally. I am impressed that you drove around looking for him. That’s profound.

  2. Carol Says:

    Prayers for the Wetterling family, that they will finally know as much peace as is possible in this painful situation.
    Think of it, 27 years of unknowing and now learning at least something of Jacob’s fate, and not at all what their hope must have been.
    Beautiful child, beautiful family. God is with them.

  3. My father-in-law was part of the search party. My husband and I were talking about how it changed us as children with that sense of safety, innocence and freedom were no longer and we were taught stranger danger and we were watched more closely by the adults. The most profound thing I remember is locking up the house, which was not the norm in the small community I grew up in. Sending prayers to the family.

  4. Jackie Says:

    It’s still so hard to believe that something like this really happened. Pure evil is all I can say! Sad for the ended but glad they can finally put Jacob’s remains to rest. Those of us with faith know that he had been with Jesus this whole time…that is peace!

  5. Beth Ann Says:

    When I saw this news pop up in my newsfeed over the weekend I thought of all of my Minnesota and Iowa friends who lived this horrific tragedy and were reliving it with the news of his body being found. A chapter may have closed but he will never be forgotten in the hearts of many. There is no sense that can be made of something like this and so many have related that things changed dramatically when he disappeared. Safety was not always assumed after that and parents were wary. Prayers for all who loved him and all who were touched by his short life and death.

  6. I saw this on the news over the weekend. Heartbreaking… Every parents nightmare

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