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Wetterlings hold out hope Jacob will be found

Patty and Jerry Wetterling walk down their driveway to speak to reporters Tuesday at their home in St. Joseph to address the arrest of a “person of interest” in the abduction of their son, Jacob. The Wetterlings said they were surprised when authorities told them they had identified a person of interest in their son Jacob’s abduction 26 years ago. (St. Cloud Times photo by Jason Wachter)

ST. JOSEPH, Minn. — The parents of Jacob Wetterling addressed the media outside their home Tuesday to say they still have hope that their long-missing son will come home.

Even with the recent naming of Daniel Heinrich as a person of interest in their son’s disappearance, Patty and Jerry Wetterling said Jacob’s case is far from over.

“We still don’t know who took Jacob,” Patty Wetterling said. “We have as many questions or more as all of you. We will let law enforcement and the courts and the process to continue.

“The one question we have said for 26 years is ‘Where’s Jacob?’ And that’s all we’re going to ask.”

Jacob Wetterling disappeared 26 years ago, on Oct. 22, 1989. He was on his way home from picking up a video from a convenience store at about 9:15 p.m. when a masked gunman approached Jacob, his brother and a friend.

Heinrich had been questioned in connection to Jacob’s disappearance, but was never charged. He has denied involvement in the Wetterling case.

After launching an exhaustive cold case investigation of area abductions, new DNA evidence tied Heinrich, now 52, to the abduction of a boy from Cold Spring just months before Jacob never came home. Investigators have examined links from the Cold Spring case to Jacob’s disappearance.

Heinrich also has been implicated in a series of assaults on young boys from 1986 to 1988 in nearby Paynesville, where Heinrich had previously lived. The Wetterlings praised the victims of those assaults who have come forward to offer information.

Jared Scheierl, the victim from the Cold Spring abduction and assault, is one such victim who has come forward to help with the Wetterling investigation. DNA from Heinrich was found to match DNA from Scheierl’s attacker, but the statute of limitations has expired on that case, meaning Heinrich is not able to be charged for the crime.

“We’re really, really proud of Jared and of the other victims in Paynesville that have come forward. There may be other victims. There may be other stories to share.”

The couple also thanked the media and the public for their efforts towards solving Jacob’s disappearance.

“We are so very, very grateful for the work that has gotten us to where we are today,” Jerry Wetterling said. “No one plays a more important role than you, everyday citizens reporting that little piece of information, when put with all the other information, that will bring Jacob home.”

Investigators found binders of child pornography in Heinrich’s Annandale home during a July 28 search. They also found boys clothing and video tapes of young boys in public.

No photos or video of Jacob were found.

The Wetterlings spoke little about Heinrich’s arrest during the six-minute press conference, and did not take any questions from reporters. Instead, they called for the community to continue searching for information about Jacob.

“I refuse to be silenced by this man,” Patty Wetterling said of Heinrich. “We don’t have the answers yet, but I refuse to be silenced.”

Heinrich made an initial court appearance for child pornography charges last week in U.S. District court in St. Paul, and is due to make a second appearance this week.

Since Jacob’s disappearance, Patty Wetterling has become a national voice in the search for missing children and serves as chairwoman of the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children’s board of directors.

“We have to also focus on preventing these things from happening so no family would ever have to go through this,” she said. “We can’t tolerate the victimization of children.

“We know that missing kids come home after long periods of time. You’ve seen those stories, I’ve met those families. I will still always, always hope until we have our answers.”

Robb Jeffries

Robb Jeffries is a news coordinator for Forum News Service. He is a graduate of the University of North Dakota and previously served as a reporter and copy editor for the Grand Forks Herald. Reach him at rjeffries@forumcomm.com and follow him on Twitter at @robbjeffries.

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