It wasn’t the ending we wanted.
After 27 years, the remains of Jacob Wetterling — the child who was kidnapped in St. Joseph in 1989 — were found. Even though I had assumed that Jacob was probably no longer with us over the years since, hearing the news on Saturday still sent a sad chill down my spine. Because a little part of me believed there was a chance he would come home safely. I think just about everybody had held onto that little bit of hope.
I was three years younger than Jacob when he was abducted. I grew up in St. Cloud, which is not far from St. Joseph. I never knew Jacob personally, but his abduction had a huge impact on my friends and I. It was probably the moment I learned that the world is not always safe — that there are dangerous people out there.
It was a very scary time. Because his abduction didn’t happen “somewhere else.” It was right next door. It hit home. It frightened us kids. Sure, we would talk brave and cocky to each other (as kids tend to do), but we were always a little more cautious walking home or talking to strangers after that.
Everything started to change.
I remember that Halloween after he was taken. It was the first time I saw just about every kid trick-or-treating with their parents. Usually the kids would just do it in groups while the parents stayed home, at least that’s how I remember it. Not that year. My mother wouldn’t let me out of her sight that night.
The tragedy started the conversation on how to keep children safe, spearheaded by Jacob’s parents Patty and Jerry. I remember attending a talk Patty hosted with my mom, it must have been a few months after Jacob was taken. I don’t remember what exactly was said, but I do remember a lot of people crying and hugging Patty afterward.
I also learned there are more good people out there than bad. That the community I lived in was there for the Wetterlings. That made me feel good.
I saw the community, the state — the country rally around this grieving family. And I saw how things started changing for the better in how we deal with this sort of thing. I remember not long after, we were taught more about strangers, what to do in situations relating to abuse, safety in numbers, staying safe, reporting inappropriate things, that sort of thing.
I remember the buttons with Jacob’s face on them. I remember in elementary school singing “Jacob’s Hope.” At that age, I truly thought that Jacob would come home.
I hope his family gets some closure from this. They were put through a hell for the past 27 years that I could never even imagine.
Let’s take Patty’s advice on what we can do for her family, which she released Monday:
“The Wetterlings are deeply grieving and are pulling our family together. We will be eager to talk to media as soon as we are able.
“Everyone wants to know what they can do to help us.
“Say a prayer.
“Light a candle.
“Be with friends.
“Play with your children.
“Eat ice cream.
“Help your neighbor.
“That is what will bring me comfort today.” – Patty Wetterling