A shock of blond hair and a wide smile atop a baggy red T-shirt greeted readers of the St. Cloud Times on Friday morning. On what would have been Jacob Wetterling’s 39th birthday, his family placed a heartfelt thank-you ad to mark the occasion.

“The Wetterling Family would like to extend our deepest gratitude for the love, kindness, prayers, generosity and support of our family and the Jacob Wetterling Resource Center,” the ad read. “Jacob had a lot to live for and with all of your help, we know his ideals are continuing to help build a safer world for all children.”

Another version of the ad included the hashtag #11for Jacob and listed 11 values that encouraged readers to be fair, kind, gentle, positive and honest.

Jacob was riding his bicycle with a friend when he was abducted near St. Joseph, Minn., in October 1989. The mystery of his disappearance gripped the state for nearly 27 years until the killer led investigators to Jacob’s grave last September.

Following Jacob’s disappearance, the Wetterling family spent years working for new state and federal laws and advocating for missing and exploited children. In the letter for his 38th birthday, Patty Wetterling wrote of the need for continued support of organizations like the Jacob Wetterling Resource Center.

That persistence paid off. Faced with a lengthy federal trial over child pornography charges, Danny Heinrich pleaded guilty to that crime in exchange for telling investigators where Jacob was buried and admitting what happened. In open court on Sept. 7, Heinrich recounted in painful detail how he abducted, sexually assaulted and killed Jacob. Heinrich was later sentenced to 20 years in prison.

In the ad, the Wetterlings said, “We’d like to, but we just can’t personally thank all of the wonderful people who have reached out in love and sympathy.

“Please know that your love is so appreciated. We thank you from the bottom of our hearts for sharing Jacob’s Hope and for helping us through this difficult time.”

Micah Emmel-Duke is a University of Minnesota student on assignment for the Star Tribune.