Stearns County Sheriff John Sanner, whose long career was shaped and shadowed by the decades-long search for an abducted child, has announced plans to retire in April.

Sanner, 62, has been with the county sheriff's office for 32 years, including 14 as sheriff. Many of those years were spent searching for 11-year-old Jacob Wetterling of St. Joseph, Minn., who was snatched off his bike by a masked man on a warm October night in 1989.

Sanner announced his retirement at Tuesday's meeting of the Stearns County Board.

"It has been a humbling privilege and honor to have had the opportunity to serve the citizens of Stearns County for nearly 33 years, which includes four consecutive elected terms as your sheriff," wrote Sanner, who sat quietly as the board chairman read Sanner's letter aloud at the meeting.

"I prepare to leave this honorable profession with no regrets. Of course, leaving something that you love is always difficult, but knowing and understanding that time has come is important to both the individual and the organization."

Sanner plans to retire on Monday, April 17.

The Wetterling kidnapping was one of Minnesota's most haunting mysteries and, in recent years, Sanner was one of the lead investigators during the hunt for the lost child and his abductor.

Last September, Danny Heinrich — a Paynesville man already jailed on child pornography charges — led investigators to the field outside of that central Minnesota city where he had molested, murdered and buried Jacob.

For almost 27 years, Heinrich had watched as investigators chased false leads that came in from around the globe and Minnesotans lit their porch lights, hoping Jacob might someday find his way home.

Later this spring, Stearns County will make available to the public tens of thousands of documents from that long, frustrating investigation.

Sanner, who would have been up for re-election in 2018, did not offer an immediate explanation for his decision to retire.

Sanner recommended commissioners name Chief Deputy Bruce Bechtold as his replacement at the next board meeting on April 4.

Jennifer Brooks • 612-673-4008