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Wetterling unsure what's next for her future

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Briana Sanchez / Tribune Patty Wetterling speaks Friday during Life Connections at the Willmar Civic Center in Willmar. Her noon speech drew a large crows.2 / 8
Briana Sanchez / Tribune Jerry Wetterling waves to the crowd Friday during Life Connections at the Willmar Civic Center in Willmar. Patty Wetterling pointed out her husband after her speech. 3 / 8
Briana Sanchez / Tribune Patty Wetterling speaks Friday during Life Connections at the Willmar Civic Center in Willmar. Wetterling spoke about how a community can keep children safe and raise them to become good people.4 / 8
Briana Sanchez / Tribune Bradley Froelich, left, leans in to hug Patty Wetterling after her speech Friday during Life Connections at the Willmar Civic Center. 5 / 8
Briana Sanchez / Tribune Patty Wetterling speaks Friday during Life Connections at the Willmar Civic Center in Willmar. She spoke about how to talk to children and keep them safe.6 / 8
Briana Sanchez / Tribune Patty Wetterling is greeted by people after her speech Friday during Life Connections in Willmar.7 / 8
Briana Sanchez / Tribune A speech by Patty Wetterling Friday during Life Connections at the Willmar Civic Center in Willmar draws a full house. 8 / 8

WILLMAR — Her 27-year-long search for her son is over, but it's left Patty Wetterling wondering what's next for her.

"There are days when I think I am better. I am doing better. I am lighter, I am focused. And, then there's days when I have no idea who I am,'' Wetterling told an audience Friday at the Willmar Civic Center.

For 27 years, Wetterling said she was the searching parent who knew all the resources, all of the other parents with missing children, and how to keep herself going and hold on to hope. "And now I am not that anymore. I don't know what is next,'' Wetterling said.

Her remarks came in response to an audience member's question about how she was doing. Wetterling, who co-founded the Jacob Wetterling Resource Center, spoke at the Life Connections event produced annually by the West Central Tribune. She devoted most of her address to the theme for which she is best known: How we can give our children the right to grow up safe and follow their dreams.

Danny Heinrich abducted her 11-year-old son, Jacob, as he and his brother and a friend rode their bikes on a country road near their home in St. Joseph during the evening of Oct. 22, 1989.

Heinrich in September told a courtroom about the abduction, sexual abuse and murder.

"We had like eight days from when we first heard this man might be willing to talk till that court hearing where he told the world what he did,'' Wetterling said.

She and her husband, Jerry, were stunned by how the 27-year-long ordeal came to this sudden resolution, Wetterling said. She told the audience that the trauma still returns at times for their other children, but that they are doing really well. Trevor, who was with Jacob on the night of the abduction, is not dealing with guilt, she said.

"The one thing about Danny Heinrich's confession is that it taught us a lot. I don't think there is anything we could have told Jacob that would have saved him. I don't think any police response quicker or faster could have saved him,'' Wetterling said. "This man was out to take a child and he was on the road where our kids were and he took him and he was murdered quickly.''

During her address Wetterling said she had seen more of the dark world than she had ever wanted to, but emphasized that she remains energized by knowing there is more good than bad in the world, and especially, by children.

"I get a great energy from children and hope and the honest-to-God belief that we owe our children and grandchildren something better, and I will find how to do it,'' she said.

Her presentation motivated one audience member to tell how she was Jacob's age and living in New London at the time of the abduction, and still remembers the fear she felt.

"Thank you for the way you responded,'' she told Wetterling. "You helped us to still have some kind of childhood because of the way you came forward and told us to be hopeful. You know, you just encouraged us to still believe in good things. It could have been completely different for all of us. I think you kind of became a mom for many of us.''

Tom Cherveny

Tom Cherveny is a regional and outdoor reporter with the West Central Tribune in Willmar, MN.

(320) 214-4335
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