ST. CLOUD, Minn. (WCCO) -- It's a crime that both captivated and frustrated Minnesotans for the past 25 years: What happened to Jacob Wetterling?
But on the outskirts of his hometown of St. Joseph, the young boy's mysterious disappearance is far from forgotten.
"We know that somebody out there has information," said John Ryan, president of the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children.
It was on the evening of Oct. 22, 1989, that 11-year-old Jacob was abducted along a dark rural road. He was not far from his home after riding his bike to a nearby convenience store.
And he wasn't riding alone. He was with his younger brother and another friend.
"The gunman asked each boy their ages and let them go, except for Jacob," Ryan said.
Now, local, state and federal investigators, along with Jacob's parents, are appealing for information once again. This time, that plea for help will appear on six billboards in St. Cloud, St. Joseph, Cold Spring and Paynesville.
The billboard space is being donated by Lamar Advertising Company in St. Cloud.
"There's a lot of people who need answers beyond just our family," said Patty Wetterling, Jacob's mother. "The entire state needs to know what happened to Jacob."
The donated billboards will feature Jacob's picture from 1989 as well as one that has been age enhanced. It represents an image of what he may look like today.
Jacob's father, Jerry Wetterling, says the key to finding his son could be in something as innocent as an overheard conversation in a bar or café. It is such tips that the investigators hope to act on.
"It's usually something that comes from the public that triggers their ability to respond, so I urge you to listen and call," said Jerry Wetterling.
It's a fact that every time Jacob's story hits the media, more tips pour in. So far, more than 50,000 leads have been vetted.
This latest billboard campaign may well prompt the one that's needed most.
Patty Wetterling says that Jacob's case has changed many things -- like the laws to protect kids and the way crimes against children are investigated, as well as the technology available to police, including criminal DNA databases and computerized records.
Back in 1989, Stearns County investigators didn't even have a computer to compare and organize leads.
Patty Wetterling says her family is holding onto hope. She says parents have a contract with children that they will never give up on them.
The Wetterlings are also buoyed by the fact that in the past 5 years, 160 missing children were recovered. Of them, 42 had been missing more than 20 years.
Anyone with information on Jacob Wetterling is asked to contact 1-800-THE-LOST (1-800-843-5678).
for more features.