for every minnesotan ages 35-40: you know.
i was 10 years old when jacob wetterling went missing in october 1989. it was unreal: a boy just one year older than me disappeared from a small town in minnesota, riding his bike back from the local video store. it could’ve been any one of my classmates. it could’ve been me.
posters went up around the school, his smiling face greeting me every time i climbed the stairs to reading class. the news was loud and insistent with its vigilant coverage, and we saw his parents on tv. it could’ve been my parents.
i didn’t know him. but i did know him. he could’ve been my classmate, the cute boy who every girl had a mild crush on. it wasn’t my town. but it was my town. and it would be, eventually. st. joseph is smaller than austin, and if a boy my age couldn’t bike where he wanted in st. joe, how would it be possible in austin? i shouldn’t have felt a connection. but i did. everyone did. when jacob’s hope became widespread, we all grasped it; we wanted to have that hope, to leave the porchlight on for jacob. come home, come home.
the media died down. patty wetterling became the face for child abductions and made great strides in legislation regarding that. a bridge built in sauk rapids was named “bridge of hope.” jacob wetterling was a household name, becoming the face for abducted children everywhere.
my family moved closer to st. joe, and i eventually went to college at st. ben’s, in st. joe. i remember seeing a feature with a few of his friends from the 2000 graduating CSB|SJU class.
in 2008, i moved to st. joe, less than a mile from the tom thumb where he was abducted. my cats went to the vet that now occupies the building. i went running in the dark evenings along a bike path, hyper aware of my surroundings, even though i knew in my head that an abductor interested in an 11-year-old boy would have no interest in a grown woman. in 2011, a farm not far from my house was investigated, turning up nothing. but it was a hit in the heart – will they find something?
then this morning, his remains were IDed after being located via information fron an annandale man who was a person of interest and had been in custody for child pornography charges. this turns my stomach, because it’s almost guaranteed that jacob was assaulted before he was killed (that is hard to write).
it’s hard to describe, but in my 10-year-old mindset, his kidnapping was always an innocent one. he was snatched, maybe tied up, then taken to an obscure place. what happened after that? i’d always hoped that he was alive, living his life out in a weird small town on a coast. it was always a hope that someone would take a second look at him in that small town, bring him back to his parents.
even after knowing what i know now about abductions and how they are usually violent and disgusting, i still held onto this very unlikely scenario as what happened to him. maybe because he could’ve been me, and that’s what i’d hope my abduction would be like (if it had to happen).
for all those minnesotans of a certain age: it’s come to a close. not the one we want, because it’s not what we would’ve wanted for ourselves, our friends, our parents. but it’s the closure we need because we want to know and we want our parents and friends to know and have closure. the lights are on, and he has come home. we are all jacob.