On October 22, 1989, 11-year-old Jacob Wetterling, his younger brother, and a friend were riding their bikes and scooters home from a convenience store when a masked man stepped out of the woods, pointed a gun, and grabbed Jacob. The man told the other boys to run into the woods or he would shoot. Two boys ran. Jacob was never seen again.
Five years later, in 1994, there was still no break in the case. Jacob had still not been found, his abductor never captured. However, the boy's name was not destined to be forgotten. That year, Congress passed the Jacob Wetterling Crimes Against Children and Sexually Violent Offender Registration Act (the Wetterling Act), which is the law that required all states to implement a sex offender registry.
Interestingly enough, since the passing of the Wetterling Act, the boy's mother, Patty Wetterling has become an unlikely advocate of reforming sex offender registration laws, saying that they are too broad, too punitive for "juveniles who did something stupid or different types of offenders who just screwed up." She believes these people should be given an opportunity to turn their lives around, noting the low recidivism rate for sex offenders and saying, "They are very different than the man who took Jacob."
And now, thanks to a closer look at the Wetterling abduction, police may very well know exactly what type of man took Jacob.
Investigators say child pornography suspect Danny Heinrichs, who is facing 25 federal child porn charges, was questioned in relation to Jacob's abduction and other sexual assaults in the area after his DNA was discovered on the clothing of a young boy who was assaulted just months before Jacob disappeared. While Heinrichs denied any involvement with Jacob's abduction, he provided authorities with information that led them to a boy's body, which investigators said Saturday had been positively identified as Jacob Wetterling.
Patty Wetterling continued to hope that her son would be found alive. After the discovery of Jacob's remains, she told reporters, "Our hearts are broken. There are no words."
EDIT: As part of a larger plea agreement, Danny Heinrichs admitted in federal court Tuesday that he abducted and sexually assaulted Jacob Wetterling in 1989 before shooting the boy and burying his body near a gravel pit. He will face no charges in the boy's death.
Image credit: Geoffrey Fairchild