Jacob Wetterling Comes Home After Being Missing 27 Years…..

There is another story about a missing boy that touched me as an adult. My son is grown but because of these stories of kidnapped boys, it made me protective of my own son as he grew up.  It is the story of the kidnapping of Jacob Wetterling, the 11-year-old boy  from St. Joseph, Minnesota  in 1989.

It was dark, so dark outside, and Jacob, his friend Aaron and his brother Trevor were riding their bicycles home. They rode their bikes to a convenience store to get a movie and a snack.  His friend Aaron said he remembered 2 things before it all happened. There was a rustle in the brush next to the road that sent a shiver down his body.  He shook that off as they continued on. The second thing is a driveway, and the glint of silver from the gun– as a truck came out of the drive way. Then a man saying, “Stop, I have a gun.”

The three boys were told to toss their bikes and lay down in a ditch. It was so dark down this country road that when they turned off their flash lights the man looked like he was dressed all in black, and what was seen was a silhouette. The man told the little boy Trevor to run to the woods, he did. Then he told Aaron to run to the woods, and he did. It left Jacob there with the man and the gun.

For the people of St. Joseph, Minnesota, most remembered where they were when he was kidnapped.  It was a horrific event for his family, Jerry and Patty Wetterling, and his 3 siblings. His brother Trevor was with him when the man stopped them. It was a profound event for his community.  It was the 80’s in rural Minnesota, and most people still felt safe.  That a boy who was riding his bike with other boys to be kidnapped off the street, something out of a horror film.

Trevor and Aaron went back to Jacob’s house and the police were called immediately. The police were at the scene of the abduction within minutes, and a search for Jacob began immediately with hundreds of volunteers. His community pulled together for him. The case brought in 50,000 leads and has been studied by the staff and trainees at the FBI Academy at Quantico, VA. (1)

Within four months after Jacob’s abduction his family started a foundation, the Jacob Wetterling Resource Center. In 1994 the federal Jacob Wetterling Act was passed. (2) It was the first law to institute a state sex-offender registry. (3)  Jacob was not the only boy taken that year.

It turned out that another boy had been grabbed, molested and thrown out of a car a few months with the same chilling details as Jacob, Jared Scheierl. Jared was 12 at the time riding his bike home at night in Cold Spring, a town about 30 miles away. He was taken at gun point, at least he said there was a gun. He was molested and let out, told to run and not look back or he would shoot him. Jared had survived. There were more. A blogger by the name of Joy Baker uncovered a cluster of 6 unsolved cases of sexual assault against boys in the late 1980’s, known now as the Paynesville attacks.

Jared Scheierl and one other boy (now a 40-year-old man who asked not to be identified) were questioned by authorities. Sheriff John Sanner said the lack of internet and the fact that small town law enforcement often acted independently may have kept the Paynesville cases from becoming a significant part of Jacob Wetterling’s investigation.  It reminds me of that scene in the movie Jaws where the woman, Ms. Kintner slaps the chief’s face and says, “You knew it and my boy is dead, I wanted you to know that.”  It was the way things were done then, would it have prevented anything?  Maybe not…..

In 2014 investigators revisited the series of attempted and actual child molestations that happened in Paynesville in an attempt to solve the Jacob Wetterling case.  The assaults occurred between the summer of 1986 and the spring of 1987.   Daniel James Heinrich now 53, was a person of interest as early as 1990, in fact there was DNA taken. So they revisited the DNA and got a match to the case of the 12-year-old boy Jared. Now the statute-of-limitations had expired on his case, however they leveraged it to get a search warrant, and found all kinds of child pornography at Heinrich’s residence. He was facing 25 counts of child pornography….That would have put him away forever. He was arrested October 2015. As part of a plea agreement he confessed to the murder of Jacob Wetterling. He also told the authorities where to find his body.  So after 27 years, Jacob Wetterling has been identified and brought home to his family.

Part of his plea agreement was that he told authorities what happened to Jacob.  He said he abducted him, molested him and shot him twice in the back of the head. He moved his body once when his jacket became visible.   He also admitted to molesting 12-year-old Jared Scheierl. So what did Heinrich get? One count of child pornography out of 25 for his confession, 20 years in jail, and he won’t face murder charges for Jacob’s murder. So Jerry and Patty got their boy back, and the whole town left their lights on for him to come home. I was moved and saddened by this little boy’s last words to Heinrich, “What did I do wrong?”


  1. Jacob’s Story, The Gunderson National Child Protection Training Center,http://www.gundersenhealth.org/ncptc/jacob-wetterling-resource-center/who-we-are/history/jacobs-story
  2. Wootson, Cleve R.,A Minnesota boy was kidnapped at gunpoint in 1989. Police have finally found his body.Washingon Post, September 4, 2016.
  3. Ramirez, Jessica (January 29, 2007). “The Abductions That Changed America”. Newsweek. 149 (5): 54–55. ISSN 0028-9604.
  4. Baker, Joy, It’s Over, http://www.joybaker.com/
  5. Jacob Wetterling: the Lights Left On in Memory of the Boy Who was Abducted,http://www.cnn.com/2016/09/05/us/lights-on-jacob-wetterling-trnd/
  6. Jacob Wetterling, Aaron Larson his Best Friend-The Night of the Abduction, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Uf_EHryxHI8

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