Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Holding onto hope in the sadness of Jacob Wetterling’s death September 8, 2016

MY FINGERTIPS REST ON THE KEYBOARD. I stare at my computer screen, attempting to pull my thoughts in to words.

To the left, outside my home office, I hear the steady thrum of traffic splashing across a rain-slicked roadway. Rain drips from a Minnesota sky as grey as my mood.

I watched a live news conference and TV newscasts Tuesday afternoon on the Jacob Wetterling case. Here's the Jacob we all remember, a sweet 11-year-old boy abducted nearly 27 years ago.

I watched a live news conference and TV newscasts Tuesday on the Jacob Wetterling case. Here’s the Jacob we all remember, a sweet 11-year-old boy abducted nearly 27 years ago.

How do I write about the deep sadness I feel after Jacob Wetterling’s murderer confessed earlier this week to abducting, molesting and then shooting the 11-year-old on October 22, 1989? For 27 years the killer held his secret, revealing the truth Tuesday in court as part of a plea deal. (Danny Heinrich will never be charged for the murder of Jacob as part of the agreement, instead serving a possible maximum 20 years in prison on a single federal charge of possession of child pornography.) Last week Heinrich led investigators to Jacob’s remains next to a pasture of grazing cattle in Central Minnesota.

Surrounded by family, Patty Wetterling addresses the media and others during a Tuesday afternoon news conference. Behind Patty stands Trevor

Surrounded by family, Patty Wetterling addresses the media and others during a Tuesday afternoon news conference. Behind Patty stands Trevor to her right, overwhelmed by grief.

How do I write about the deep sadness I feel for Jacob’s family, who, along with so many Minnesotans, held onto hope that Jacob would be found alive? Watching Jacob’s brother, Trevor, during a recent news conference brings me to tears. He was biking home with Jacob and a friend on that October evening when a masked gunman took his brother at gunpoint. Trevor’s grief is visible in his closed eyes, bowed head, leaking tears and the way he leans in to his father, Jerry Wetterling.

How do I write about the deep sadness I feel as part of the sisterhood of mothers? Jacob’s mom, Patty Wetterling, has remained rock strong through all of this, advocating for children while she continued to hope. For 27 years. I cannot imagine the pain and the devastating grief. As Patty noted, until Jacob’s remains were found, he was alive. Now she knows with certainty that her little boy is gone.

As Minnesotans, how do we cope? We must grieve. Collectively. Privately.

But we must also hold onto the hope Patty inspired in us. Hope for a safer world for our children and grandchildren. We must claim hope. Because of Jacob.

TELL ME: How have you been impacted by the abduction of Jacob Wetterling and, now, by the discovery of his remains and by the killer’s confession?

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FYI: Click here to read a timeline of events posted by Minnesota Public Radio in the Jacob Wetterling case.

Click here to read specifics on how you can help keep kids safe and how you can support the Jacob Wetterling Resource Center.

Click here to read the writing of freelance writer and blogger Joy Baker, who, along with Jared Scheierl, was key in helping to solve the mystery of Jacob’s disappearance. Patty Wetterling in Tuesday’s news conference thanked them both for “stirring the pot.” Jacob’s killer admitted Tuesday in court¬†to abducting and sexually assaulting Scheierl nine months before he took Jacob. A DNA match confirmed that assault against the then 12-year-old in Cold Spring. The statute of limitations has expired in that case, thus Heinrich cannot be prosecuted for that crime.

© Copyright 2016 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

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