Jacob Wetterling’s abduction 26 years ago forever changed parenting in Minnesota. Brought to a crashing halt was the confidence — perhaps overconfidence — that life in our pastoral state afforded protection against crimes thought to happen elsewhere.
Those who were parents when the 11-year-old St. Joseph boy disappeared near his home on Oct. 22, 1989, felt fear for the first time as kids went out the door. Those who were children at the time grew up with an unprecedented sense of vulnerability and became adults with parenting styles to reflect that.
It is no surprise, then, that new developments in Jacob’s disappearance riveted the state on Thursday as Daniel J. Heinrich, a 52-year-old Annandale man, was named as a “person of interest.’’ The passage of more than a quarter century has not diminished Minnesotans’ sense of loss nor slaked our thirst for justice.
We all want Jacob back. We all want answers. We all want the perpetrator who shattered generations of Minnesotans’ sense of security behind bars. Frustratingly, the new details are promising but fall well short of closure. Heinrich has not been charged in Jacob’s disappearance. But he has been arrested and faces federal charges for possessing 19 binders of child porn.
Jacob’s photo was not found in these images. Nor is there evidence directly linking Heinrich to his abduction. Nevertheless, connections exist that are not easily discounted. Heinrich lived in a nearby town when Jacob disappeared. A tire mark and a shoe print found near the abduction site were found at the time to be consistent with Heinrich’s property, though both lacked a “unique feature” to definitively link him to the scene.
A more recent cold-case review of Jacob’s disappearance yielded a troubling new finding that potentially links Heinrich to the type of crime that may have befallen Jacob. DNA evidence generated by today’s technology found Heinrich’s DNA on clothing linked to another boy in the area who was abducted, sexually assaulted and then released in January 1989.
Anyone who can share information about Heinrich should contact authorities. Even a small detail could yield a breakthrough and help bring home a long-lost, but never forgotten Minnesota kid.