What would the outcome for a missing child look like today if we hadn’t searched for Jacob Wetterling for 27 years?

We are better for having searched.

In the end, that’s what matters.

My first child, a daughter, was an 8-month-old baby when Jacob was taken. Her child, my grandson, was 2 years old when Jacob was found. They both exist in a world where missing children are profoundly safer than back in 1989.

It’s easy to forget that back in the late 1980s, cellphones were “bricks,” kids didn’t have them, and many law enforcement agencies didn’t even have fax machines. Communication between agencies didn’t travel at fiber-optic speeds. The internet, as we know it today, didn’t exist back then.

If Jacob were abducted in today’s world, law enforcement would have tracked his cellphone or found surveillance video along the route the abductor had taken and, possibly, would have apprehended their man while Jacob was still alive.

So much has changed since 1989. As far as missing children, this is largely due to the Wetterling family’s efforts, the continuing law enforcement and media attention on this case, and the fact that Minnesotans just would not let this lie. It was real to all of us.

If focusing on the past could change what occurred, or make things better in the future, it would be worth the effort. But it won’t. Let’s not spend another minute on the impulsive act of an evil man, or how he managed to hide it. No more of the “would have, could have, should have.”

Whether the bad guy was a primary suspect, or a secondary suspect, he was definitely a suspect. And because there was doubt, law enforcement continued to explore every other possible avenue in the meantime, because nothing could be proven. A supreme effort was made so that no stone was left unturned.

Hindsight is always 20/20, and it’s miraculous that Jacob was found at all. The perpetrator may not have been behind bars all those years, but he was in a prison of self-imposed exile, always looking over his shoulder, afraid of getting caught, and apparently did not commit another similar act afterward, and that, at least, is something.

In the ultimate selfless act of making lemonade out of lemons, the Wetterling family gave of themselves so other parents might have the chance to hug their kids again. And they continue to do so. Statistically, they knew he was probably gone. They — and all of us — kept looking anyway.

Have you ever heard the words (written by Kent M. Keith) that Mother Teresa made popular? “The good you do today, will often be forgotten. Do good anyway … give the best you have, and it will never be enough. Give your best anyway.”

The #11forJacob movement encourages people to do the same — be kind, be fair and, most of all, be positive. I hope that is what people remember when they turn on their porch lights this Oct. 22.

Let’s let it be more important that Jacob lived, than that he died.


Ann Uhde lives in Brooklyn Park.