Commentary: Minnesota remembers, keeps looking for Jacob

The announcement of child pornography charges and the person of interest connection came 26 years and 7 days after Jacob Wetterling was abducted on a warm Sunday night near St. Joseph along a rural Stearns County road.

The announcement of child pornography charges and the person of interest connection came 26 years and 7 days after Jacob Wetterling was abducted on a warm Sunday night near St. Joseph along a rural Stearns County road.

Minnesota paused to listen on many fronts.

U.S. Attorney Andrew Luger announced child pornography charges against Daniel James Heinrich, 52, of Annadale, at a Minneapolis news conference Thursday as Minnesotans watched via television across the state.

Stearns County Sheriff John Sanner and other authorities said the Heinrich, while not charged in the Wetterling abduction, was a “person of interest” in the case. Authorities noted that Heinrich’s DNA had been discovered this year that could link Heinrich to a January 1989 abduction in Cold Spring, which had similarities to Jacob’s case.

It all started shortly after 9 p.m. on Oct. 22, 1989, when Jacob, 11; his brother, Trevor, 10; and best friend, Aaron Larson, 11, rode their bicycles to a local convenience store to rent a video. A masked men with a gun stopped the trio and asked them their ages. The gunman told Trevor and Aaron to run into the woods and not to look back.


Jacob has never been seen again.

Days of searches by family, friends and authorities turned up no sign of Jacob or significant clues of what happen.

Most Minnesotans over 30 remember Jacob Wetterling. Minnesota Nice was shocked when the reports of a child abduction came from rural Stearns County. The abduction site was just an hour’s drive from Willmar.

For many parents and elementary children of the 1990s, a period of innocence and safety ended with Jacob’s abduction. Parents kept their kids closer and in sight, and often shortened their parental leashes.

Jacob was only a year older than my son at the time. They both played hockey. My son’s Rochester hockey team and others added “JW” stickers on their helmets that they wore for several years before growing out of them.

Kids of that era remember -they are Jacob’s generation. My son is an adult now and has lived in Salt Lake City for 17 years. When I shared a news story link with him yesterday, he remembered again. “Wow,” he responded.

Jacob’s story especially touched mothers. Patty Wetterling, Jacob’s mother, searched for her son for 26 years. She became an advocate for missing and exploited children. She lobbied for new laws and Amber Alerts to protect kids.

Families started on each Oct.22 to leave their porch lights on for Jacob.


Minnesota journalists who covered the story were touched by this never ending search for Jacob. Professional friends at the St. Cloud Times were at ground zero of this story’s coverage. Time’s journalists and others continued to cover Jacob’s story to this day, but this story hit home for many.

A west central Minnesota blogger and mother, Joy Baker, ( began writing about the Wetterling abduction in recent years. She brought attention to a series of attacks on teenage boys in Paynesville in the late 1980s.

In 2014, it had been 25 years since Jacob was abducted, which brought renewed interest in the case. Metro television stations took another look. Jacob’s abduction was featured on the CNN program, “The Hunt with John Walsh.” Law enforcement took another look at this cold abduction case.

On Thursday, authorities announced Heinrich’s arrest on child pornograpy charges and identified him as a “person of interest” in Jacob’s abduction.

Yet Jacob still has not been found.

His story has haunted the Wetterling family, law enforcement and authorities, the town of St. Joseph and a generation of Minnesota kids and parents.

Anyone with information about Jacob’s cases, are urged to contact the Stearns County Sheriff’s Office at (320) 25903700, or the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children at 1-800-THE-LOST.

Let us all hope and pray that the final clue can be found and the case solved. Then Jacob can be returned home.


Kelly Boldan is editor of the West Central Tribune.

Opinion by Kelly Boldan
Kelly Boldan has been editor of West Central Tribune and in Willmar, Minnesota, since October 2001. He joined Forum Communications Co. in November 1998 as editor of the Bemidji (Minn.) Pioneer.
Boldan can be reached via email: or telephone: 320-214-4331.
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