Remains found in central Minnesota in recent days are that of Jacob Wetterling, an 11-year-old boy who was abducted in 1989, authorities said Saturday in an announcement that provided some long-awaited answers to a mystery that has captivated a state for decades and sparked changes in sex offender laws.
Danny Heinrich, the suspect in Wetterlings’ abduction, led the FBI to the boy’s remains, a law enforcement source confirmed to CBS News senior investigative producer Pat Milton on Saturday.
Agents had pressed Heinrich for information on the nearly 27-year-old mystery in the last few days, CBS Minnesota station WCCO-TV reports. Sources told the station the FBI took Heinrich out of jail at least twice this week.
It was during that time that Heinrich allegedly told investigators where they would find’s body. Searchers have been at a site in Stearns County for several days, and at some point found bodily remains and Jacob’s clothing at the scene, WCCO-TV reports.
In a statement released Saturday, the Stearns County Sheriff’s Office said it “confirms that Jacob Wetterling’s remains have been located.” The statement says that the Ramsey County medical examiner and a forensic odontologist identified the remains Saturday.
Jacob’s mother, Patty Wetterling, texted WCCO-TV on Saturday morning.
“Our hearts are broken. We have no words,” Wetterling said.
Wetterling said the family will release an official statement at some point.
Jacob was 11 when he was kidnapped by a masked gunman on Sunday, Oct. 22, 1989, in St. Joseph. He was biking home from a convenience store with his brother and a friend.
The FBI said a similar case happened in January 1989, when 12-year-old Jared Scheierl was sexually assaulted in nearby Cold Spring. There was also a series of sexual assaults in nearby Paynesville in 1986 and 1987.
Heinrich, of Annandale, was questioned in 1990 about the assaults and the Wetterling case but was never formally charged.
The FBI named Heinrich a person of interest in the Wetterling case last October. Heinrich was charged with 25 counts of child pornography possession on the same day, to which he pleaded not guilty.
It was also announced on that day that DNA taken from Heinrich in 1990 linked him to Scheierl’s assault, a discovery made by investigators in 2015.
Heinrich would not face any charges due to the statute of limitations, but Scheierl filed a civil suit against him in May, accusing Heinrich of sexual battery and false imprisonment.
Heinrich’s attorney has asked for evidence and incriminating statements made to investigators to be thrown out of his child porn case. His attorney also asked for his trial to be moved away from the Twin Cities area, which was denied.
Heinrich will likely face decades in prison for possessing the porn, with experts calling it a very strong case against him. His trial is scheduled for next month, but there is concern that it could all fall apart due to the possible discovery of Wetterling’s remains. He could appear in court as early as Tuesday, although nothing has yet been scheduled.
The Jacob Wetterling Resource Center released a statement Saturday morning on its Facebook page, saying its staff was “in deep grief.”
“We didn’t want Jacob’s story to end this way,” the statement said. “Our hearts are heavy, but we are being held up by all of the people who have been a part of making Jacob’s Hope a light that will never be extinguished. ... Jacob, you are loved.”