Jacob Wetterling would have turned 38 years old Wednesday. He'd likely have a career and, perhaps, a family and children of his own. His mother, Patty Wetterling, took the opportunity of his birthday to pen a message to him on the website of the Jacob Wetterling Resource Center.

In the note, she references the last time his family and friends were able to celebrate his birthday, 27 years ago, when he turned 11. He was abducted while riding his bike home from a convenience store with his brother, Aaron, and a friend near St. Joseph, Minn., in October 1989.

"Birthdays are supposed to be about parties, hats and noisemakers, cake, ice cream, friends singing and making wishes but not yet," Patty Wetterling wrote. "Not this year, again. How I wish to wrap my arms around you and hug you tight!

"I have watched the tape of your last birthday party over and over. We rented a suite at the Holiday Inn for your party. You and Aaron raced back and forth in the pool and took turns throwing each other in the deep end. It was so much fun!"

Although Wetterling's grinning photo — as a boy — and his case have never been far from public conscience, it gained new attention last fall when Daniel James Heinrich, 52, of Annandale, was named a "person of interest" in the case. Heinrich has not been charged in the Wetterling case but will go on trial in July in federal court in Minneapolis on charges of possessing child porn.

He also has been linked via DNA evidence to the 1989 kidnapping and assault of Jared Scheierl, 12, of Cold Spring, Minn., who abducted nine months before Wetterling disappeared. Authorities have said they believe the Scheierl case is related to the Wetterling case and to the unsolved assaults on eight other young boys in Paynesville from 1986 to 1988.

Patty Wetterling, who is board chairwoman of the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, wrote to her son, "I want you to know that since you were stolen away from us, people everywhere have been searching, praying and hoping for your safety and for answers …

"My birthday wish is for you to come home. We need to find you. I have another wish for every child who is home safe today, that they will never have to endure abduction or sexual exploitation of any type. We are working just as hard on prevention as we are on searching because this is so wrong … so unfair. I remember how much it bothered you when things were unfair. Me too, it bothers me too.

"I am hoping and praying that people will remember you on February 17 and we ask that everyone hug their kids a little tighter, tell them that they love them and take time to play a game or read books. My wish is also that parents will support agencies that help to find our missing kids and help other victims. Today, we ask everyone to volunteer, attend events, send financial support and share safety information. The nonprofit work continues on a daily basis. Sometimes sexual exploitation and abduction are on the news, and sometimes not, yet we all rely on the support and expertise of these agencies when we need them. They are there for us. They need our support as well.

"And once again today, February 17, we will light our candles, fix your favorite foods and cake, and thank God for the gift of you.

"We love you Jacob and we'll never stop searching for you! I so wish for a happy birthday for you.


Pat Pheifer • 612-673-7252