Neighbors of Daniel Heinrich witnessed surveillance, a search warrant and were questioned by authorities

ANNANDALE -- Just a block from Annandale Middle School, in a neighborhood full of children, stands the home of Dan Heinrich, who was charged Thursday in federal court with possession of child pornography.

The house at 55 Myrtle Avenue in Annandale was searched as part of the investigation into abductions in Stearns County. (Dave Schwarz | St. Cloud Times)

ANNANDALE - Just a block from Annandale Middle School, in a neighborhood full of children, stands the home of Dan Heinrich, who was charged Thursday in federal court with possession of child pornography.
Heinrich has been named a person of interest in the Jacob Wetterling abduction case.
The mood on Myrtle Avenue South Thursday afternoon was relief. And curiosity.
Kids rode their bikes up and down the street, cellphones in hand, watching the news crews. Neighbors stood on their porches or talked to reporters.
Neighbors say the area has seen a lot of police activity in the last few months.
In July, neighbors said, they saw unmarked police cars surveilling the house. Later, they watched as a search warrant was executed, and saw items removed from the property by van.
Many neighbors have been interviewed by local and federal law enforcement officials, as recently as the past few days. Deanna Picka said Thursday that she had never met Heinrich, but her husband would stop and visit with him when Heinrich, 52, was outside.
“My kids sold popcorn at his house,” she said. “We could always tell something was a little off, so we tried to stay on the other side of the street.
“This really came to our attention this August. The police came and talked to us and said that they had confiscated an entire vanload of materials. And they told us to keep our eyes open and our ears open.
“And then the police officer also mentioned that he had been directly questioned about Jacob Wetterling’s case, three times or so.”
FBI at the door
On Wednesday, about 9:30 p.m., Annandale Police Chief Jeff Herr came to her house and alerted them that Heinrich had been arrested.
“And this morning, there was an FBI agent at my door, asking if my children had any involvement with him,” she said.
“It was definitely strange,” she said, to have that question asked of her. “It’s not every day an FBI agent is at your door, asking if your kids have had a relationship with a man,” she said.
Her kids watched what was going on, too.
“I never wanted to walk past his house,” said Nathan Picka, who is 11.
The reaction to the recent news?
“I was relieved that he was off the streets,” Deanna Picka said.
Picka is around Jacob’s age, so she remembers hearing about the case.
“My parents talked with me about it. ... I just always told my kids, always be aware. Just because you think you’re tough doesn’t mean you can outrun or outfight a crazy person.”

Keeping tabs
Debbie Laschinger has lived on the block for 11 years, next to her niece Deanna.
“I don’t work anymore, so I’m a pretty good neighborhood watch. We have a lot of small children in the area,” she said. She often sits outside with her coffee and cigarettes.
“There’s not too much I miss around here,” she said.
When Heinrich moved in, she noticed he spent a lot of time sitting outside alone.
“So I felt sorry for him, and went over there to introduce myself,” she said. But she was uncomfortable.
“I just kept backing away from him trying to leave the conversation, but I couldn’t get a word in edgewise... This is before I knew anything about him.”
Over the years, she said, she saw police at the house when Heinrich had altercations with his brother, who she said lived there on and off.
“He’d sit outside and talk to himself. And he’d have arguments with himself,” she said.
“He’s fine one second and the next minute, he’s swearing up a storm,” she said.
This July, she noticed the surveillance vehicles, and a few days later, the search of the house.
“They came out with bags and bags of stuff. But they didn’t arrest him. They questioned him,” she said.
She said she heard Heinrich talking to a neighbor about the event.
“He just blew it off as a big joke,” she said, saying that they questioned him about Jacob Wetterling, and that the police were never going to pin it on him.
Laschinger lived in Shakopee when Wetterling was abducted, but she remembers hearing the news.
“Those poor parents of his. ... I don’t know how they live with it. I would want to know where my child’s body was and I want to know now,” she said.
She too got visits from local and federal law enforcement.
“This is a busy street with kids on their scooters and bicycles,” she said.
When she heard about the news, she had another reaction.
“In my heart I feel kind of bad for him,” she said, because who knows what his background was like.
“I feel sorry for him in a way. But if he is responsible for this, I hope they get him good,” she said. “I don’t wish bad luck on anybody.”


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